By Shelby Rowe Moyer
An avid reader, I often try to choose books that will inform my perspective beyond my own experiences. Here are a few nonfiction books I’ve recently read that really impacted me.
“Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots” by Morgan Jerkins
Many have probably heard of The Great Migration, but few likely understand why it occurred and how it impacted the current lives of Black Americans. Author Morgan Jerkins explores her ancestral past, by visiting the southern states her family migrated from in the early- to mid-1900s. Jerkins uses a historical lens to explore and explain why Black people fled the South and resettled in east and west coast cities.
Why I recommend it: Aside from it being a fascinating and emotional personal journey, this book is also rich with information about Black culture and racist laws and perceptions that kept Black people in financial and social bondage.
When we hear the term “assistive technology,” prosthetic limbs, wheelchairs or hearing aids might come to mind. But assistive tools exist everywhere and are used by everyone as extensions of our own bodies. Think: spoons, back scratchers, podiums and more. The author takes the reader to different locations around the country — including a private university for people who are deaf — to show how the simplest and most subtle designs are often the most effective — and how they benefit all of us.
Why I recommend it: I started this book because I wanted to learn more about ability and disability. I saw the world in a new lens regarding our bodies and the brilliance of simple, creative solutions.
What is gender? What is sexuality? Where do words fail us in capturing these parts of our lives? This memoir tackles relationships and gender from a philosophical lens with prose that is mesmerizing and thought provoking.
Why I recommend it: Though this book is heavily academic at times, it’s also deeply poetic. It made me think about the limitations of language, and how it’s been constructed by a society that prefers to place everything and everyone into neat categories.
A look behind the curtain of white nationalism — one that is often portrayed as a movement of alt-right men — reveals activist women who help to fan and fuel the white supremacist narrative. Journalist Seyward Darby interviews and researches three real-life women who have been, or are currently part of, the white nationalist movement.
Why I recommend it: Though some of these stories reveal obvious racism, some aspects of the women’s stories also show the danger of subtle racism.
Ecuadorian-born writer Karla Cornejo Villavivencio tells the story of undocumented workers around the U.S., sharing aspects of their lives that are likely unknown to many Americans. Villavivencio was in the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that protects young immigrants from deportation) when she wrote this book, sharing her experience as an immigrant, as well as others’ stories in New York City, Miami and Flint. It is truly eye-opening.
Why I recommend it: One of the most powerful vignettes in this nonfiction book is about the undocumented workers who were recruited to clean up Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 attacks. Their bravery, love for the U.S. and the debilitating health effects many continue to suffer to this day are touching and heartbreaking. Plus, her writing is unapologetic and completely her own.
Known for her poetry, Cathy Park Hong untangles the oppressive origins of the “model minority” as a reference to Asian-Americans. This series of essays about her own shame and suspicion of her Korean background are braided together to present her “minor feelings,” which “occur when American optimism contradicts your own reality — when you believe the lies you’re told about your own racial identity.”
Why I recommend it: It was hugely eye-opening to read about the experiences of a woman who has lived within a racist cacophony, and how that shaped her thoughts and feelings.
Want to buy a copy of any of these books? Here are some Dane County bookstores: