White Fragility

Book 25 of 2020 was White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. I hope you appreciate the sacrifices I make for you, gentle reader. This book was written by a person who runs diversity training for a living. I dream of a world where that job doesn’t exist. I don’t know who needs to hear this besides the author, but anecdotes are not data. There is nothing in this book to back up any of her claims. Nothing. No statistics. No studies. Nothing but personal anecdotes from her own life. Worse than that, she makes counterfactual claims. More on that later.

There’s too much trash opinion to sift through to make a comprehensive review, so I’m just going to quote and give my hot takes. Please enjoy.

She claims there are “forces” that hold the racial hierarchy in place, such as meritocracy and individualism. Let that sink in for a moment. If we break it down, doesn’t this mean that we believe whites have more merit than blacks?

“Individualism claims that there are no intrinsic barriers to individual success and that failure is not a consequence of social structures but comes from individual character.”

Individualism doesn’t claim there are no barriers. Individualism simply attributes value to individual choices and claims that those choices can make a difference in outcome. Social structures aren’t fate. Furthermore, since the nature of social structures is that they are slow to change, outcomes in the present can only be improved through personal choice. It’s detrimental to have the mindset that a racist society is an insurmountable obstacle: it’s called learned helplessness.

“Most of us can acknowledge that we do feel some unease around certain groups of people…. But this feeling doesn’t come naturally. Our unease comes from living separate from a group of people while simultaneously absorbing incomplete or erroneous information about them.”

The feeling comes naturally. When you’re constantly being “called out” or told you shouldn’t say this word, or shouldn’t wear that. When you’re told that every other casual comment you make is hurtful or even violent. You shouldn’t do your hair this way, shouldn’t sing along to songs, shouldn’t wear certain costumes. When saying the wrong thing, or remaining silent at the wrong time can motivate a group to get you fired. When everything’s a microaggression, it is completely natural for people to avoid the groups they perceive as being easily offended, frequently angry, petty and vindictive. It’s unpleasant to deal those people, so it’s natural to wish to stay away from them as much as possible.

She quotes Charles Mills’ book The Racial Contract, mentioning that this contract creates “political states differentially favoring [white] interests” and “an economy structured around the racial exploitation of others.”

No part of our “political state” mentions race explicitly, except to forbid discrimination based on race. At best, this claim is vague. At worst, it’s meant to stir up racial animus without any evidence to back it up. It’s never made clear how white interests are favored or what is meant by “racial exploitation.”

“At the most general level, the racial frame views whites as superior in culture and achievement and views people of color as generally of less social, economic, and political consequence”

Is this a “racial frame” or simply the facts we’re working with? If blacks and whites were equal in achievement and had equal political and economic power, would we be having this conversation? Why would we be complaining about racism?

She asks whites to reflect on the white racial frame by asking leading questions such as “Were the honors or advanced placement classes and the lower-track classes equally racially integrated? If not, why not?
The implication being that the reason for some groups being better represented in honors track is racism. It is clear from her framing and the fact that she doesn’t believe in individualism that the only acceptable answer to her question is “racist policy.”

She later implies that any difference in outcomes between whites and POC is attributable to racism and no other cause. (Sounds familiar… Wasn’t that the faulty basis of Kendi’s entire book on antiracism?) That to think otherwise is to “enact racism.” Again, this assertion is given with no evidence or data. It’s a baseless opinion.

“Because I haven’t been socialized to see myself or to be seen by other whites in racial terms, I don’t carry the psychic weight of race”

It is a good idea then, to not socialize anyone to see themselves in racial terms. Who needs or wants to “carry the psychic weight of race?”

“George Zimmerman would not have stopped me as I walked through a gated suburban neighborhood.”

But why not? Because you are a white woman, and white women were not responsible for a string of burglaries in his gated suburban neighborhood. Let’s take it a step further. Even if he had stopped you to ask what you were doing, you would’ve responded pleasantly that you were visiting your father, and gestured towards his house. If he had followed you, you would’ve gone straight home, and maybe even called the cops on him. You would not end up dead because you chose to show aggression towards an armed man: you would not have shown aggression at all. This is why individualism and choices cannot be dismissed: they can mean the difference between life and death.

“Once hired, I won’t have to deal with my coworkers resentment that I only got the job because I am white”

A great point! We should eliminate any hiring practices that give anyone an advantage based on race. Then no one would have cause to feel or deal with resentment.

“It has not been African Americans who resist integration efforts, it has always been whites.”

Let’s turn on our critical questioning skills here. Unless we assume that whites are irrational, if they resist integration it must be that the costs of integration are perceived to be higher than the benefits. If crime and poverty are higher in black neighborhoods and a white neighborhood is integrated, doesn’t it follow that crime and poverty rates will increase? And what is the corresponding benefit that makes this possibility of higher crime rates worthwhile? If there is a benefit that outweighs the costs, it must not have occurred to enough whites. Maybe there isn’t enough convincing evidence?

“The most profound message of racial segregation may be that the absence of people of color from our lives is no real loss.”

Is there some proof that this would be a real loss? Do we feel this way about isolated tribes that have never met outsiders? What about racially homogenous nations like Japan? Are they experiencing “real loss” from the lack of people who look different from them? How so?

She argues that not only is it impossible for human beings to treat each other the same regardless of race, but that it’s undesirable to do so “because people have different needs.” While I agree with the general sentiment, we should hesitate to assign “needs” to a person based on race.

“Today, we depict blacks as dangerous, a portrayal that perverts the true direction of violence between whites and blacks since the founding of this country.”

This statement ignores present-day facts. Blacks target whites for violent crime at a much higher rate than the reverse. Blacks are also overrepresented in the set of murderers and violent criminals. A cursory glance at the relevant statistics would show these facts. It’s intellectually dishonest to imply otherwise.

She appears to be ignorant even of recent historical facts. She brings up the difference in rhetoric regarding the opioid epidemic versus “the mandatory sentencing perpetrated against those addicted to crack,” conveniently ignoring the fact that black leaders spearheaded and supported these harsher sentencing laws because they saw the destruction that crack brought to their communities.

In an amusing bit of hypocrisy, she calls out whites for their stance of self-defense, and denies they have any reason to feel attacked in discussions about race. But can we deny an individual’s feelings or lived experience? If someone claims to feel attacked, shouldn’t intention automatically not matter? She goes as far as to say “no physical violence has ever occurred in any interracial discussion or training that I am aware of.” This is especially rich, given that “silence is violence” is a very popular rallying cry of social justice warriors and BLM. Well, no physical violence was perpetrated by anyone as a direct result of their silence, as far as I’m aware.

She rejects the idea that we should assume others have good intentions because it “tells victims that as long as there was no intention to cause harm, they need to let go of the hurt and move on.” We can be certain that her idea of “harm” includes being offended by someone’s choice of words. If that counts as harm, then whites being made to feel uncomfortable during a discussion about race counts as an attack! If there needs to be this level of sensitivity towards black feelings, then maybe our discussion should be about black fragility.

She calls a respectful environment with no conflict, no expression of strong emotion, no challenging of racist patterns and a focus on intentions over impact a “hostile environment for people of color.” Again, implying that people of color are so extremely fragile that a respectful environment where they can’t shout or make personal attacks is “hostile.” By the common definition of hostile, allowing shouting / “expression of strong emotions” and challenging others is more hostile than disallowing those things.

She claims that there’s no such thing as a positive white identity because “White identity is inherently racist; white people do not exist outside the system of white supremacy.”

I’m not even sure what this means. Does she mean that “white” as a category wouldn’t exist? She can’t mean that once white supremacy isn’t a thing that all white people just *poof* disappear, right?

“It is white people’s responsibility to be less fragile; people of color don’t need to twist themselves into knots trying to navigate us as painlessly as possible.”

This last is my favorite quote from the book and I would like to leave you with it. But with a small twist. Let’s do a little mad libs to get a much more accurate representation of what the situation in the U.S. really looks like today:

It is black people’s responsibility to be less fragile; white people don’t need to twist themselves into knots trying to navigate blacks as painlessly as possible.

How to Be an Antiracist

Book 24 was How to Be an Antiracist. I have been bombarded with mentions of this book. It’s on NPR. It’s all over social media. It’s practically the bible of the BLM movement. I figured I’d read this just to be up to date on the current arguments and terminology preferred by the social justice movement. Also, I decided to take one for the team and read it so that you don’t have to.

The author does have an advanced degree (a PhD), but in a field that doesn’t require any formal training in logic or proof (African American studies). The tl;dr here is that the premise of the book rests on the idea that all races, cultures, classes are equal, and thus equally good, so any racially disparate outcome is a priori the result of racist policy. This is begging the question, as it’s a big claim and needs to be proven. Kendi makes no attempt to prove his assertion, or to exclude the possibility of other differences being the root cause of disparate outcomes (income, IQ, etc).

He also defines racism in such a way that makes it antiracist to discriminate based on race at the policy level. Yes, in an amazing feat of mental gymnastics, he asserts that it is necessary to discriminate based on race to be antiracist. He says “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.” He makes no secret that the goal of his new antiracist framework is not seeking equal opportunity but equal outcome.

His writing style is not exactly scholarly. The book is heavy on personal anecdote and goes on in great detail about such topics as what fashion items he and his friends thought were “fresh” during his high school years. At the same time, he asserts without any attempt to prove that all races/cultures/classes are equal. Sure, we can agree that it’s meaningless to say that one race, culture or class is better than another generally. However, if we restrict to specific questions, we can answer them. Things such as “is a given race/culture/class over-indexed in the set of Harvard grads, engineers, high-paid individuals, prisoners, welfare recipients, etc” we can answer all of those questions. If his assertion is that race, culture and class all play zero contributing role to how their members end up faring on various metrics, he really needs to prove it or at least provide evidence. He doesn’t. He even goes one step further and claims that personal choices and behaviors should not be considered: that every unequal outcome is the result of racist policy.

Kendi includes many statistics comparing black outcomes to the benchmark of the US population by race. Statistics such as “Black students were four times more likely than White students to be suspended from public schools” and many more. He attributes these 100% to racism, and not at all to behavioral differences. He doesn’t even acknowledge that anything other than racism could be a factor. He doesn’t give any reasoning why the demographics of the US population is the correct benchmark. For example, given that blacks commit murder at about 8x the rate that whites do, would it be correct to say that the number of blacks in prison for murder should reflect the general demographics of the US? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to expect the rate of imprisonment for murder to match the rate at which murders are committed?

On “biological racism”, Kendi says “Biological racism rests on two ideas: that the races are meaningfully different in their biology and that these differences create a hierarchy of value.” He then uses the old talking point of there being more genetic diversity within race than between races to invalidate the idea of races being genetically distinct in a meaningful way. There are entire books written on the subject, but Kendi is satisfied with dismissing the idea with one line.

Not only does Kendi fail to prove his assertions, he also contradicts himself. For example, he claims that classes are all equal, and none is better than any other. He does not accept that the wealthy are doing something differently that gives their children a better shot at school, job prospects, high income, staying out of prison. However, he also brings up property taxes funding public schools as a reason for the black-white performance gap. So which is it? Does money help improve outcomes? Or is it irrelevant because all classes are equal?

Antiracism, as defined by Kendi, is an absurd and poorly thought out concept. Even granting him his definitions and his assertions, we can find an antiracist policy (by his definition) that I am certain he would find objectionable. (nb: This is a reductio. I am not seriously suggesting this as policy.) Once the black imprisonment rate for murder reaches 13% of all prisoners convicted of murder, let the subsequent black folks convicted of murder roam free. This would be an anti-racist policy, as it helps align the black imprisonment rate for murder with the demographic breakdown of the US in general, which Kendi insists is the correct benchmark in all cases. I would assume Kendi would disagree with this policy because black murderers mostly kill black victims.

Kendi advocates for massaging outcomes to look more equal by race, what the social justice kids call “equity” to distinguish from the concept of treating people equally under law and policy. It seems pretty obvious that making changes at this level only changes outcomes on a skin-deep level and doesn’t address any underlying issues. I’m a bit baffled that this book is as popular as it is, given the shortcomings I’ve listed here. Maybe you can help me understand?

Sustainable Happiness

Book 22 was from a Little Free Library and titled Sustainable Happiness. I know, I know… self-help? I promised not to discriminate on genre, and hey, who doesn’t want to know the secrets to sustainable happiness, right? So here we are. The basic premise of this book is that while consumerism is necessary for continued economic growth, it doesn’t make humans much happier after we have the basics.

Here are the 10 things that will make you happy, according to the book:

  1. Savor everyday moments
  2. Avoid comparisons
  3. Put money low on the list
  4. Have meaningful goals
  5. Take initiative at work
  6. Make friends, treasure family
  7. Smile even when you don’t feel like it*
  8. Say thank you like you mean it
  9. Get out and exercise
  10. Give it away now!

Many of these things make sense intuitively, and #10 is the basis of Marie Kondo’s de-cluttering manifestos. 4 and 5 are probably the most difficult, because they’re hard to define, and the benefits are hard to quantify.

I did also appreciate the following list from the book, though it sounds more like a list on “How to be French”:

The Sabbath Manifesto — 10 ways to take a day off

  1. Avoid technology
  2. Connect with loved ones
  3. Nurture your health
  4. Get outside
  5. Avoid commerce
  6. Light candles
  7. Drink wine
  8. Eat bread
  9. Find silence
  10. Give back

The book is composed of several essays, and I found a couple of them… goofy. For example, there’s one on internet porn addiction that seems out of place. Author Dan Mahle says giving up porn helped him restore a sense of personal integrity, dismantle his subconscious sexism, reconnect to his tears, trust himself more, increase self-confidence, gain clarity on his life’s purpose and be passionate about the work he’s doing. Wow, what an infomercial. Makes me wonder why there are people who were never into porn but don’t have those things (eg clarity, passion, self-confidence). Then there’s some stuff about “Earth university,” “Earth Democracy,” and restorative justice. I’m not really sure what they have to do with an individual finding happiness, but maybe the point is to help all humans get there.

In short, to be happy, try to live more simply, enjoy and be thankful for what you have, and be Frencher.

Quotes from the book that I enjoyed:

“Slavery was motivated by “the love of ease and gain,” and no luxuries could exist without others having to suffer to create them.”

I definitely disagree with this one. Fine dining? Those chefs have the time of their lives. I don’t think the artisans at Staub are suffering a lot to make the luxury cocottes I love either.

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Simple living is not about abandoning luxury, but discovering it in new places.”

Maybe this quote addresses my objection to the previous luxury quote. Maybe I’ve discovered it in places where it doesn’t cost suffering. Yay, me.

“It’s not that we actually have an overwhelming desire to accumulate property, it’s that we’re concerned with how we’re seen all the time. It’s not material self-interest, it’s that we experience ourselves through each other’s eyes — and that’s the reason for the labels and the clothes and the cars.”

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” — Viktor E. Frankl, concentration camp survivor

*Not about actually smiling, but a recommendation to have a positive outlook so as to see more opportunities

Identity

For book 21, I read Milan Kundera’s Identity. Kundera’s strength is that his thoughts are interesting enough that even if his stories and his writing are unremarkable, there’s still something to be gained from reading his books.

The story itself was predictable. I figured out who the secret admirer was before the protagonist did, and I’m not usually good at figuring that out when reading mysteries. Kundera gives up on even writing an ending, throws something together and says “oh, at some point this turned into a dream.” Then sort of cheekily tells the reader to try and figure out when it was.

The author doesn’t describe the physical world much, and doesn’t believe in doing so. Too much description does get plodding, but when I try to imagine the people or settings in Kundera’s work, it comes out like cubism or impressionism or abstract art. I guess neglecting descriptions can be its own type of distraction.

Kundera’s strength is that his insights, even if I don’t agree with them, seem like they could be true for many others. Here are some that stood out to me:

“This is the real and the only reason for friendship: to provide a mirror so the other person can contemplate his image from the past.”

“Every woman measures how much she’s aged by the interest or uninterest men show in her body.”

“When he wondered: what should I choose for my life’s work? His inner self would fall into the most uncomfortable silence.”

“The feeling that he was about to find himself alone on a platform all the trains had left.” — in re: dropping out of medical school

“I would imagine life before me like a tree… We see life that way for only a brief time. Thereafter, it comes to look like a track laid out once and for all, a tunnel one can never get out of.”

“The quantity of boredom… is much greater today than it once was. Because the old occupations… were unthinkable without a passionate involvement.”

“Since they’re hopeless, the beggar’s desires have one feature that’s beyond price: they are free and sincere.”

“Only through her can he feel compassion… What if he should lose this one person who binds him to humankind?”

“We put makeup on desolation.” – in re: the advertising industry

I agree with that last one at least. I have been targeted dozens of times for ads on social media demonstrating undergarments into which I could shove copious fat rolls for a smoother appearance under skin-tight dresses. That my goal should be to look better in spandex dresses if I had copious rolls of fat around my middle is indeed desolate.

In the Shadow of the Valley

Book 20 of 2020 was In the Shadow of the Valley: A Memoir. I heard it compared to Hillbilly Elegy, which I liked. This book was purely memoir, though, and didn’t offer any broader discussion or prescriptions like Hillbilly Elegy. Tl:dr, don’t bother with this book if you’ve already read the other.

To be fair, this book doesn’t claim to be anything other than one woman’s memoir about growing up in Appalachia. And her writing is good. It was engaging and painted a vivid picture. It never got in the way or made me want to scroll to get to the next interesting part. But the subject matter itself was not enlightening. It’s a litany of all the ways she was mistreated, more or less. I don’t think I had any added insight after reading the book, so that was disappointing.

I also came away unsure how exactly her husbands were abusive. She admitted they weren’t physically violent. But she doesn’t describe specific incidents to show the reader what was so terrible about them. She compares them to her father, implying that they are as bad in terms of wanting to control her. It sounds like one husband was a cheater and the other was a gossip, but it wasn’t clear what this had to do with her abusive father, or how it could be as bad as being whipped with a belt. I guess she was confused, so she left her reader confused too.

I am glad that she managed to graduate from college, get an advanced degree, and become a published writer despite the poverty she was raised in. It’s confirmation bias, but I collect examples of people getting where they belong, despite less than ideal environments. It’s some variation of “If Yan can cook, then so can you.” We make too many excuses in the United States. In Asia, you fail because you didn’t try hard enough.

I would’ve loved to see her tell us what could have made things better for her. Anything her teachers could’ve done? The government? The other students? College professors? College friends? Any self-help books for people who are growing up similar to her?

Flights

Book 19 is not really a book. It was a Nobel Prize and Man Booker Award winning “masterpiece.” It was Flights by Olga Tokarczuk. When I first heard of it and its awards and the founts of praise, I was excited. I like travel. I like intelligent discussions on the human condition. I like good books. What could go wrong? Everything. Everything.

Where to begin? You can’t say anything bad about a book that has critical acclaim like this without fear of accusations that you aren’t smart enough to understand. Or that you just didn’t get it. Or your tastes are coarse. Whatever: believe me or don’t. Read the book for yourself or don’t. I’m not here to convince you that I’m qualified to say this, but the emperor has no clothes. Yes, her prose is good. Good enough that it wasn’t distracting like the writing style of many suspense or sci-fi writers. Fine, I’ll give her that. But was it good enough for there to be no plot? No characters we care about? No point? No glue? Not by half. This isn’t Nabokov. It’s not Kazuo Ishiguro. It’s not even Stephen King. It just stays out of my way enough for me to refrain from throwing my Kindle across the room in frustration.

There’s just nothing here to hold the reader’s interest. For example, there is one longer short story about a man searching for his wife and child on a small island where no one can get lost. There are endless descriptions of completely random things that have nothing to do with finding them. Or even with any of the characters. Such as descriptions of ferry passengers. Why? Why waste the reader’s time like that? Infuriating!

However, what this book did give me is inspiration. That’s not a compliment. President Donald Trump gave me inspiration more than any other president. No other president made me believe as truly that anyone, just anyone could be president. Likewise, this book, having won prestigious prizes that much better (more gripping, more interesting, more coherent) books could never come close to winning — that’s brought me hope too. If Tokarczuk can be a Nobel Prize winning author, then anyone, anyone can be an author. I have a set of 100 pointless, disjointed essays. Who wants to publish me?

I’ve reached 35%, and I’m not going to finish. Some tips from me if you want to produce a work like this:

  • Write a bunch of unrelated essays on whatever sparks your fancy at the moment.
  • Be sure to name drop every Greek philosopher  you’ve ever heard of in at least one of them.
  • About 50% of them should be whatever you happen to be thinking or seeing at a random moment in your life. Just set phone alarms for and write down whatever was going through your head, or record what you see people doing wherever you happen to be.
  • Go to anatomy museums and describe what’s on display.
  • If you include stories, don’t write endings. Just spend the entire time setting the scene, introducing the problem, then end the story without explanation.

That, folks, is how you can produce a work like this and perhaps also be a Nobel literature award winning author.

Sentimental Education

I will count as book 18 Sentimental Education, even though we can only say I read this book using a very loose definition of “read.” You see, I’ve succumbed to the world of Korean dramas and I’ll never be the same. A book cannot compete with a kdrama (in the realm of romantic storytelling) unless it’s truly stellar. Like Call Me By Your Name. But I have read only one or two books of that calibre in my entire life. Maybe I should start writing detailed metas for the kdramas I watch. Wouldn’t that be hilarious?

I wanted to read this book because of a boy I once knew. We were on a ski cabin trip and I saw him putting away his kindle, so I asked what he was reading. He looked at me, startled.. eyes wide, exposed. As if I had caught him committing a crime. He stuttered the name of this book, nothing else, and fled. This was years ago, but I have not forgotten his reaction.

So this book, it must be a revelation, right? Some truly guilty pleasure? I saved it all this time, waiting for the right moment to savor it. What better time than a lockdown.

I should have saved it forever because it’s just an annoying book. I am so disappointed. The author takes too much time describing clothes, furniture, decor, parties. Badly. As if he’s an intern at a museum doing inventory. He spends too much time on side characters that we never get to know well enough to be invested in: characters that all blur together or are flimsy enough to be summarized in a few words. He allows himself the luxury of opining on the politics of the day through his characters. Long-winded entreaties that have nothing to do with the story. It’s every sin that a first year writing course would beat out of you, but maybe it was acceptable in Flaubert’s day. Or maybe this book is read today to appreciate the zeitgeist of the French Revolution.

I got through the entire first volume and there was very little except unrequited longing which was poorly explained. A young man moves to Paris and falls in love with his mentor’s wife. For no reason. I guess she has nice hair? Now, in the second volume, the wife finds out the young man is engaged and decides she loves him too. Out of nowhere. Where does it go? Nowhere. He has a few side romances, has a child out of wedlock who then dies right away, has an engagement with a society woman, leads a country girl on for a bit. But there’s never a good motivation given for any of it. Was the prompt for this book “write some fluff about a young man’s sexual adventures, and make sure he’s driven by not much more than his libido and his basest social climber instincts”?

Maybe I’m judging a classic by today’s standards. Unfairly. Or maybe I’ve completely missed the lesson I’m supposed to learn. That young men are shallow and ambitious? Inflamed by senseless passions? Have no thought or significant motivation behind their actions? I love frivolity as much as anyone, but when frivolity reads like a slog, it earns a hard pass from me.

Dog is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You

Book 15 of 2020 was Dog is Love. I appreciate the title and I’m more inclined to believe it than the religious phrase it’s a play on. The author is long-winded and repetitive, but does cover some interesting research. The basic premise of the book is that dogs are not uniquely intelligent in the animal kingdom: that they make such good pets and companions and even workers because they are motivated by their love for us.

Some new things I learned:

  • It’s unlikely dogs evolved from wolves because friendly wolves started helping humans hunt. It’s more likely that they evolved as scavengers of human trash dumps who were less fearful of humans, and this conferred reproductive advantage. The helping humans hunt came later.
  • Dogs have a “socialization period” during which they need to get used to humans. If this doesn’t happen, they will be feral. Like cats or humans.
  • Wolves don’t have as much interest in staying near humans as dogs do. Even wolves who were hand-raised by humans.
  • Most dogs will prioritize spending time with their humans over eating food, even if they haven’t eaten all day.
  • Showing dominance with physical force is unnecessary: dogs already know who’s boss because you decide when they eat, when they go outside, where they can do their business, etc
  • Animal shelters complete more adoptions when they don’t post breed info for their dogs. Breed info is guesswork anyway: shelter employees put down whatever they think the dog looks like.

Overall, I found the book informative, and I learned a good amount of new stuff. I’m surprised because I’ve been obsessed with dogs since I wrote a book report on them in grade school.

If all this talk of dogs has given you a yearning for one, or even just a desire to try being a dog owner, you’re in luck! The current coronavirus pandemic has resulted in shelters throughout the country being shut down, and many are looking for foster homes for their dogs (and other animals). If you’re a bit lonely or sheltering alone, maybe an animal companion could improve your days. Check out Stay Home and Foster.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (and sequels)

Books 12, 13, 14 of 2020 were To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, PS I Still Love You, and Always and Forever, Lara Jean. Yeah, it’s teen romance. No, I’m not ashamed. I forgot where I heard about it. Maybe Subtle Asian Traits? A bit of background: when someone says they need a role model that looks like them, or that a book is boring because they characters don’t look like them, I roll my eyes and think “give me a break.” Is representation in fiction important? Only if you don’t have an imagination. Only if you can’t learn from or appreciate a well-written story just because the protagonist doesn’t look like you. Only if you’re so closed-minded you’re only able to relate to others of the same race. So, when I heard about this series and the inevitable discussion about “representation,” I rolled my eyes but decided to give it a go.

I’m glad I did. The value of representation isn’t in catering to those who lack the imagination to find characters of other races engaging. It’s to share stories from different experiences. We should encourage people to read stories from cultures that aren’t their own. About people who don’t look like them. I’m sad for the people who only want to read about people who look like them: it’s a deliberate and unnecessary narrowing of their worldview.

The book centers around a teen girl who’s stereotypically Asian in some ways, but balancing that with being a “normal” teen in America. Sure, not every Asian high schooler is a high-achieving “goody-goody” who’s sheltered and has very little experience dating, but it’s pretty common. I appreciate how aspects of the main character’s Korean heritage were incorporated lightly into her story (with descriptions of Korean cooking and traditions), but the series is not about race, and we aren’t bashed over the head with race issues. It’s about teen romance, and the letters she wrote to various boys she loved. Letters that were never meant to be read, but mysteriously got sent to their addressees. It’s about first love, and high school and college admissions.

The books are really fun, lighthearted reads that I got through in 1-2 days each. Perfect lockdown material. The author writes in an engaging way and makes you want to keep reading, even after bedtime. Her characters are also quirky and have personalities that could belong to real people. I love that there is a good amount of food description. Lara Jean loves baking and the author describes this in detail. It reminded me a little of Murakami. Overall, the series is like a warm blanket or an old sweater. So comforting.