January 2021 Reads

A note of gratitude: it hasn’t even been a month & this little alcove has been gifted with over 1k views & visitors from over 30 countries! Thank you for believing in the HEAL blog, reading Lanterns’ stories with such care & walking alongside one another to build kinship. Especially grateful to our first three Lanterns: Jacquelyn, Deepika & Katri. Excited to share more stories & other explorations soon.

For now, some January reads featuring more poetry, themes of home, centering those society renders invisible & more.

Domestic Work by Natasha Trethewey

In an interview, Trethewey once stated “poetry requires our single attention,” answering to why poetry is such a significant endeavor today because it’s more difficult than ever to provide “single attention” to anything. I’m reminded of that whenever I read a poem. To put all else aside and focus my singular attention on the words, each one valuable and providing substantial meaning, more so than when reading a novel for instance. This collection of poems, centered on working-class African Americans, exquisitely interweaves place, the past, and identity. Rita Dove said it best in her introduction, that Trethewey “takes up [the] double-edged sword” of people and history trapped in each other (referencing James Baldwin). I would recommend Trethewey any day but especially this collection because it shines a light on people whom American society often renders invisible…and does so with such wit and craft.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Breathtaking. No wonder this book won the Pulitzer. A feat of ethnographic fieldwork and research married to superb storytelling, this work shines a light on poverty, racism, and housing on a personal level. While stories are rooted in Milwaukee, their implications are applicable across America. A must-read and one of my 2021 favorites thus far.

Homemaking by Jamaica Kincaid

This marvelous essay landed in my inbox from one of The New Yorker’s themed emails…this one, as you may have guessed, on what “home” means. It’s a question I’ve been thinking about recently as well, given the ongoing pandemic and me splitting my time between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Kincaid’s essay is packed with themes, some of which are desire, wanting to be somewhere other than where one is at present, house vs. home, adulthood, greed, and ridiculing mainstream American cultural expectations, such as that “Americans are unable to live adult lives in the places where they were born,” and so much more. Reading this immediately before reading Evicted left a jarring feeling…having a home (and a house) in our transient lives means stability, safety, comfort, and identity-building.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

I know, I’m late to this book party. A classic with a plot so famed that little served as surprise, this novel still raised some curiosity on my part, particularly on how distinct Gothic fiction is compared to other sub-genres…especially the eccentricity around love and ways cruelty manifests.

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

While primarily for a U.S.-based audience, the 18 essays in Kendall’s book have global implications, touching on the pervasive effects of caste and class, racism, patriarchy, and colonialism. If you’re a public health professional, most of the material may already be familiar but I’d argue this book is still worth a read, as the perspectives on social determinants of health are interwoven with personal stories and feminist discourse. If you’re an emerging public health professional, this is a must-read. From skin-bleaching to hunger to maternal mortality, Kendall centers feminism on basic (public health) needs: “Food insecurity, the living wage and access to education are feminist issues. The fight against racism, ableism and transmisogyny are feminist issues.”

Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini

“Every society that happens to be dominant comes to think of itself as being the best, deep down. The more powerful we humans become, the more our power begins to be framed as natural as well as cultural. We paint our enemies as ugly foreigners and our subordinates as inferior.” In a similar vein as Wilkerson’s Caste, Saini discusses what it means to be a ‘modern’ human, to relinquish power and truly decolonize.

“…the political tentacles of race reach into our minds and demand proof. If we are equally human, equally capable and equally modern, then there are those who need convincing before they grant full rights, freedoms, and opportunities to those they have historically treated as lesser. They need to be convinced before they will commit to redressing the wrongs of the past, before they agree to affirmative action or decolonization, before they fully dismantle the structures of race and racism. They’re not about to give away their power.”

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