If you don't know me in person, you might not realize I am a competition-grade crier. I get choked up several times daily, just from thinking thoughts, and full-onslaught blubbering is a not infrequent occurrence.
From a young age I disliked admonishments against crying. Why on earth wouldn't I cry? It's not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of emotion. So I was eager to read Benjamin Perry's book Cry, Baby for that sweet sweet confirmation bias.
I suppose I was expecting lots of research showing why crying is good and healthy, but as Perry explains, there haven't been many studies. People generally, and pharmaceutical executives particularly, don't see repressed tears as a problem. So while there's a bit of science here, much of the material is drawn from literature, religious scriptures, and contemporary events, as when Amy Cooper, the white lady with the dog in Central Park, called the police in tears with a fabricated story of being harassed by Christopher Cooper (extremely no relation), a Black man who was out birding. By the way, his memoir Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World got a starred review in Shelf Awareness.
Perry is a progressive minister fluent in the often academic language of social justice. I eat that stuff like candy, but it will not be accessible or enjoyable to all audiences. That's fine--but I hope someone else will write a book about crying aimed at more general audiences. People with conservative politics need to hear this message, too.
A version of this post originally appeared on April 15, 2023.
Sebene Selassie is among my favorite teachers on 10% Happier, the app I use for mindfulness meditation.
A cousin to Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass, You Belong is a mix of meditation guidance, memoir, ethics, and social science (though Selassie reminds us that science is but one way of understanding the world). It's about belonging and how things go to hell when we feel we don't belong, individually and in the larger world.
I recommend this one for a couple of reasons. First, it's a good discussion of social justice. Teachings on meditation, spirituality, and religion have the potential to liberate whole swaths of society. These paths of inquiry are not just about improving compassion or tightening your focus or helping regulate your emotions.
Second, it's a solid resource for starting or enhancing mindfulness meditation. I've meditated nearly every day for the past four years and I'm still a novice, albeit a novice who's benefited from the practice. I learned a lot, especially about Buddhism.
But if you are allergic to mysticism and spirituality, I would instead recommend Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, the Dan Harris book that first got me meditating.
Selassie's voice is like lemonade in July. Audiobook strongly recommended.
A version of this post originally appeared on February 25, 2023.
With The Cooking Gene, Michael W. Twitty writes a book that's not quite like anything I've read. He blends culinary history, memoir, genealogy, family history, Black history, social justice, spirituality and religion, and travel, delivered with prose that often verges on the poetic.
It's hard to summarize. This is the story of how African food became African-American, but it's also the story of how one man learned more about his place in the world: by cooking traditional foods with traditional methods, by studying census records and historical newspapers, by exploring the limits of DNA ancestral discovery.
Though Twitty celebrates soul food, do not mistake this for a joyful book. He mines four hundred years of trauma and violence to write this story. I was emotionally taxed as I read it, and it's not my ancestors who were enslaved.
I recommend the audio. Twitty narrates with a mid-Atlantic Black accent that adds to the experience.
When Covid first hit, I started doing book talks on social media as a way to keep in touch with people. I never got out of the habit. I don't discuss books by my clients, and if I don't like a book, I won't discuss it at all. While I will sometimes focus on craft or offer gentle critical perspectives, as a matter of professional courtesy, I don't trash writers. Unless they're dead. Then the gloves come off.