Month in review: April 2019

Hi readers! I’ve decided to start adding “month in review” posts to my blog. The main purpose of these posts is to keep myself accountable for reaching my reading goals. I’ll also be posting a bit about my personal life, as things going on in my personal life affect how much I read in a given month. Also, I have really enjoyed reading other bloggers’ posts that offer glimpses into their lives, so I wanted to do the same. Let’s review April 2019!

Books read:

In April I finished two books: Hard to Love by Briallen Hopper and Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom. Both books are collections of essays written by highly educated academics, and both teeter the line between academic essay and personal memoir. I loved both books (I actually rated them both as 5-star books on Goodreads), but I might like Thick ever-so-slightly better because it taught me more and challenged me to see certain issues from a new perspective.

Bakes inspired by the books:

I wrote a “books and bakes” post for each of the books mentioned above. For Hard to Love, I baked a coffee-flavored cake with raspberry jam filling and mocha buttercream. For Thick, I baked chai spice donuts with chocolate icing. Both bakes turned out well, but neither were as “aesthetically pleasing” as I would have liked (something to work on and improve over time). The donuts were the better of the two bakes, but I may be biased since I’m a sucker for anything chai-spiced.

Books in progress/reading goals for next month:

At the end of April I started reading Boom Town, a non-fiction book about the history and culture of Oklahoma City. For several reasons, I was skeptical about the book before I started it…but after reading the introduction I was hooked. I’m really excited to finish reading Boom Town and write about it here. After Boom Town, I hope to read one (maybe two, but that’s not necessarily realistic because May is going to be INSANE) more book in the month of May. Specifically, I’m hoping to tackle a couple books on the Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist (yes, I know that the shortlist has been announced – but the book that I most want to read didn’t make the shortlist).

Blog posts that I loved:

There is so much great content out there in the blogosphere that I can’t list every awesome post that I’ve come across. But that being said, these four posts might have been my favorites of April:

Naty’s Bookshelf reviewed Daisy Jones and the Six (a book that I was intentionally resisting because I am inherently skeptical of hyped-up books)…now the book is in my TBR.

Literary Lizard reviewed The Island of Sea Women and left the review on a cliffhanger, so I definitely plan to read that too!

Pointless Overthinking posted a short, motivational essay about thinking of ourselves as seeds growing through dirt, which is a beautiful way to think about adverse or stressful moments in life as transformative and positive.

And Dopamine Queen posted about how being an “attention seeker” can actually be a good thing.

Anything else?

  • I am officially a master of science! I defended my thesis ~4 weeks ago and submitted the official paperwork last week!
  • I’ve been getting back into a good exercise routine (necessary for maintaining my sanity during busy/stressful times), so I’m really happy about that.
  • I’m about to move ~1,000 miles away (will probably post more about that later this month) – it is an exciting and busy (and also slightly terrifying) time!

(donuts inspired by the cover of) Thick

The book: Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom.

This week I finished Thick: And Other Essays by Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom. Thick is a collection of essays that explore what it is to be a black woman in America. Each essay looks at how race intersects with aspects of society including socioeconomic status, profession, and ethnicity.

My first impression of Thick was that the writing style was academic and formal; this wasn’t entirely surprising since Dr. McMillan Cottom is an academic (she is a professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University). Although the writing is formal at times, Dr. McMillan Cottom also writes poetically and accessibly throughout Thick. She perfectly sprinkles personal anecdotes throughout her essays, allowing the reader to connect abstract ideas to real peoples’ lived experiences.

I also found Thick to be enlightening and profound. Some people told me that Thick didn’t teach them anything they didn’t already know, but that was not my experience. This could be a reflection of my lack of expertise in the field of sociology, or perhaps my ignorance as a white woman in America (or, more likely, a combination of both). But even when Thick tackled concepts that I already understood at some level, I felt like I was learning something new: Dr. McMillan Cottom really dissects and examines the nuances of race in America, allowing me (and probably other readers) to process information and expand upon my perspectives that were previously shallow or one-dimensional.

So much of Thick was eye-opening and memorable, but one of the concepts that stuck with me most was that capitalism and racism serve each other in a positive feedback loop. This is tackled in the chapter “In the Name of Beauty,” where McMillan Cottom explains how “beauty isn’t actually what you look like; beauty is the preferences that reproduce the existing social order” (the same is true of most “lifestyle” preferences that are promoted by capitalism).

The other idea that stuck strongly with me was one that I already knew (in a shallow way) prior to reading Thick: that white men are more likely to be seen as competent in America, regardless of their level of expertise or their actual competence. Not only are white men viewed as competent, but social order forces women and people of color (especially women of color) into situations where they are likely to fail, resulting in people of power treating them as incompetent. This is explored in much more depth in the chapter “Dying to be Competent.” A major takeaway from this chapter was the importance of listening to people other than white men, especially women and non-binary people of color: because their social status often forces them into positions of less power, it is especially important that we do listen and take them seriously.

Overall, I highly recommend Thick. Dr. McMillan Cottom uses the perfect blend of academic and prosaic writing to illustrate issues of race in America. You can read an excerpt from the chapter “Dying to be Competent” here.

The bake: spice cake donuts with chocolate glaze.

I had a tough time choosing a bake inspired by Thick, mostly because the essays describing systemic racism in America (which I benefit from) did not exactly fuel my appetite for sweets. Eventually, I decided that I would make a shareable treat inspired by the cover of Thick. I ended up settling on donuts glazed with chocolate, and then drizzled with white and pink icing (to resemble the white and pink writing on the dark cover of the book).

The finished donut, next to the book cover that inspired it.

I baked these cake donuts from King Arthur Flour, then iced them in this chocolate glaze (also from KAF). I modified the donut recipe by adding a bit of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves. Once the donuts were glazed and cool, I melted some white chocolate chips and drizzled that mixture over the donuts to get the finished, decorated donut. The pink drizzle is just the melted white chocolate with a drop of pink gel food coloring.

My verdict on the donuts is that they are tasty, but definitely not as “aesthetically pleasing” as I had wanted. I am okay with this, because as Dr. McMillan Cottom points out in “In the Name of Beauty,” beauty is a construct. What matters most to me is that the donuts taste good (which they do), so that my friends and co-workers can enjoy them.