Toufah: The Woman Who Inspired an African #Metoo Movement: A Non-Fiction Review

Toufah: The Woman Who Inspired an African #Metoo Movement by Toufah Jallow with Kim PittawayIn 2015 nineteen-year-old Toufah Jallow dreamt of winning a prestigious scholarship from a presidential competition (similar to a pageant) that drew competitors throughout The Gambia. Growing up in her father’s polygamous household with her mother, his second wife, Toufah knew that the scholarship–and the promise of attending any university of her choice anywhere in the world–could be life changing.

When Toufah wins with her focus on touring a play about how to eradicate poverty in the country, she expects it to be the beginning of everything she dreamt of.

Instead Toufah is drugged and raped by Yahya Jammeh–the so-called president and dictator of The Gambia behind the competition.

Terrified that speaking out will put her family in danger, Toufah knows she can’t stay in her home or even her country. She needs to escape before she can share her story.

After a harrowing escape to Senegal, Toufah connects with international humanitarian organizations that help her get to Canada. After years of acclimating to a new culture and climate while processing her trauma, Jammeh is deposed and eighteen months in July 2019 Toufah becomes the first woman in The Gambia to publicly accuse Jammeh of rape.

Toufah: The Woman Who Inspired an African #Metoo Movement (2021) by Toufah Jallow with Kim Pittaway is the story of Toufah’s testimony and how it sparked marches, protests, and with #IAmToufah led Toufah down a path of advocacy for sexual violence survivors around the world.

Find it on Bookshop.

If you have any inclination toward audiobooks I highly recommend checking out the audiobook of this memoir which Toufah reads herself.

Although Toufah: The Woman Who Inspired an African #Metoo Movement includes hard material, it is all handled with care and intention. Toufah’s time in Canada particularly adds much needed levity to this timely story. Toufah: The Woman Who Inspired an African #Metoo Movement is a timely story that situates the #MeToo movement in an international context and demonstrates the lasting impact of standing up and speaking out.

Possible Pairings: Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement by Tarana Burke, Everything I Never Dreamed: My Life Surviving and Standing Up to Domestic Violence by Ruth M. Glenn, You Too?: 25 Voices Share Their #MeToo Stories edited by Janet Gurtler, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Ignited a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Meghan Twohey, Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Gender Inequality in Sports: A Non-Fiction Review

Gender Inequality in Sports by Kirstin Cronn-MillsYou’ve probably heard Title IX thrown around with talks about equal rights and feminism. Maybe you even learned about its passage during President Nixon’s administration thanks in large part to the advocacy of Patsy Takemoto Mink in Congress.

When it was signed into law Title IX made it illegal for federally funded education programs to discriminate based on sex–a ruling that would have a lasting impact on education across the country and, especially, on sports.

Gender Inequality in Sports (2022) by Kirstin Cronn-Mills (find it on Bookshop) details the passing of Title IX, it’s lasting impact on women’s sports, and how far it still has to go.

Through concise text and chapters filled photos and callout boxes about notable athletes from Billie Jean King to Serene Williams and Simone Biles, Cronn-Mills discusses the need for both equality and equity in sports to make sure that male and female athletes can be on an equal footing at every stage of their athletic careers whether that involves playing at school, the collegiate level, or in professional arenas.

While using the framing of women’s sports for much of the book, Gender Inequality in Sports also makes sure to highlight the added challenges faced by athletes of color, LGBTQ+ athletes, and nonbinary athletes. In addition to breaking down intersectionality, the text also mentions some of the ways legislation for various sporting events are changing to try and accommodate these athletes in more equitable manners. Cronn-Mills also succinctly and correctly shuts down any arguments that transgender athletes should be blocked from competing as their identified gender stating clearly that trans women are women (and trans men are men) and pointing to the science that shows the idea of trans athletes having any advantage is nothing more than fear mongering by conservatives and TERFs.

Chapters detail the advent of Title IX, it’s impact on sports and how its interpretation is changing to offer better protections and more inclusivity. The closing chapters explore how we can continue to move toward equality and equity in women’s sports and a look at what the future might hold.

Although slim, Gender Inequality in Sports packs in a lot of information. Printed on glossy paper with full color photos, many of the spreads and callout boxes throughout have a teal background and red borders similar to the cover design. This, unfortunately, is the book’s one misstep which might result in some readers needing to shift to a black and white ebook version to avoid pulsing colors on the periphery of their vision.

Back matter includes a glossary of key terms, source notes, selected bibliography, further information, index, acknowledgements, and photo acknowledgements offering plenty of options for interested readers to dig deeper.

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close: A Non-Fiction Review

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann FriedmanIt takes about three hundred hours to become best friends with someone–in other words, just twelve and a half days. But it takes so much more than proximity to go from acquaintances to friends. Even after forging that shared wavelength, forming those bonds, you have to keep showing up to keep the friendship healthy.

Being a good friend is a lot of work. Friendships can be messy. They can be unwieldy. Sometimes they can feel uneven when you put in more than you get back (or the other way around).

Friendships can also be just as important as any romantic or familial relationship you’ll ever have.

So why don’t we talk about friendship more? Why is there so little written about these relationships that can define so much about our support systems and, ultimately, about ourselves?

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close (2020) by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman doesn’t have all the answers but it does include a lot of smart observations about friendship.

Find it on Bookshop.

You might know Sow and Friedman from their “Call Your Girlfriend” podcast. This book (which the authors narrate for the audiobook) brings readers behind the curtain of the highlight reel of their friendship to look at the moments that brought them together, tested their friendship, and ultimately kept them close.

While Big Friendship is not a guide to creating and maintaining friendships, the book does include smart tips through the specific lens of Sow and Friedman’s relationship. The book also explores the stretches inherent to maintaining friendships and the unique challenge of making space for something that society often tells adults to devalue in favor of a focus on work or family.

In a time that has tested more than a few friendships, Big Friendship is a timely and thoughtful read sure to provoke some valuable conversations and offer needed space for introspection.

Possible Pairings: Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen, Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond by Lydia Denworth, Crossing the Racial Divide: Close Friendships Between Black and White Americans by Kathleen O. Korgen, The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate by Harriet Lerner, Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship by Kayleen Schaefer, You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships by Deborah Tannen, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle, Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship by Kath Weston

Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less-And Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined: A Non-Fiction Review

Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less -And Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined by Scott SonensheinHave you ever needed one thing and had to make do with something else? Maybe you’ve had to use a shoe when you really needed a hammer. Maybe you’ve baked a loaf cake in a sheet pan. Or did you wait and tell yourself you can’t move forward until you find the exact right tool for the situation?

Depending on your answers you might be a chaser who is always searching for newer and better resources. Or, if you’ve adapted when you had to and made do, you might be a stretcher.

People, it turns out, are really bad at gauging what we need (spoiler: the answer isn’t always “more”) and we’re even worse at estimating our ability to make more out of what we have–something most people routinely underestimate.

Stretching can’t solve every problem. But it can solve a few–especially when the biggest challenge is getting started in Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less -And Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined (2017) by Scott Sonenshein.

Find it on Bookshop.

Sonenshein is an organizational psychologist. In this book he outlines his theory of stretching (making do with what you have rather than growing for the sake of having more) and shares research–both anecdotal and from scientific data–detailing why this approach can be so helpful for so many people and organizations.

Much like in Joy at Work (his collaboration with Marie Kondo). the research and strategies here are approachable and easy to implement. While not every working professional will have the latitude to put these practices into play, the strategies are sound and do help provide options for a mindset shift in approaching problems. As with every new work strategy, there is the risk of leaning in too hard which, in this case could lead to falling into a privation mindset. Sonenshein outlines some of these pitfalls at the end of the book both for individuals and companies.

This slim volume offers chapter-by-chapter strategies guiding readers through how to work with what you’ve got, the causes and consequences of a chasing mindset, the basic benefits of a stretching mindset and the value of knowing a little about a lot as Sonenshein outlines the stretching strategy. In the second half of the book chapters explore why we sometimes perform better without a script (and without all the time and money in the world), how beliefs make us and the people we care about better (or worse), the power of unlikely combinations, and how to get the right stretch.

The book closes with practical strategies and steps to begin stretching in your own life including but not limited to shopping your closet (figuratively or literally), surrounding yourself with new people (and ideas), appreciating what you have, turning trash into treasure, and remembering that when you’re already lost any map will do to get your started.

While not everyone can stretch all the time, Stretch offers practical research and advice for how to embrace flexibility and change–two things that many of us have had to learn often as work situations continue to change in light of current events.

Can We Talk About Consent?: A Non-Fiction Review

Can We Talk About Consent?: A Book About Freedom, Choices, and Agreement by Justin Hancock, illustrated by Fuchsia MacareeConsent is a big concept. But not everyone understands what it means or how to make sure it’s properly given and received.

That’s where Can We Talk About Consent?: A Book About Freedom, Choices, and Agreement (2021) by Justin Hancock, illustrated by Fuchsia Macaree comes in.

Find it on Bookshop.

Hancock uses his experience from his work as a sex and relationship educator to break down how consent works in a few areas in this book geared toward younger readers including:

  • how we greet each other
  • how to choose things for ourselves
  • how we say no to things
  • communicating and respecting choices in sexual relationships
  • the factors that can affect a person’s ability to choose
  • how to empower other people by giving them consent

The book itself says it’s for readers age 14 and up (likely because sex is mentioned and because some pages are text heavy) but if read together with discussion, this can work for younger readers as well.

Hancock’s no-nonsense text is approachable with clear examples (and a lot of pizza metaphors) to break down this crucially important topic. Macaree’s illustrations add a lot of pop and variety to the book and also represent people with a realistic variety of skin tones and appearances.

Unfortunately, the design of the book itself makes Can We Talk About Consent? nearly unreadable in places and favors gimmicky page spreads in favor of clearly sharing information.

The book has full color illustrations and is printed on glossy paper. This with the small text and narrow trim size, means the book has small print. Compounding the issue: some of the illustrations are very low contrast like one with speech bubbles that are dark green with black text.

low contrast image from Can We Talk About Consent? intertior pageMeanwhile other page spreads have completely bizarre layouts including one shaped like a pizza (I cannot overstate the amount of pizza in this book) where the most important information (“If consent is about choices and freedom, then it’s more than just avoiding something we don’t want.”) is not only buried at the bottom of the page but printed upside down.

overly designed page image from Can We Talk About Consent? intertior pageCan We Talk About Consent? shares a ton of important and valuable information (including a glossary and additional resources). Unfortunately a book design that seemingly failed to consider that this book has to be read makes it difficult to easily interface with much of that information–particularly for anyone who is visually impaired or needs larger and clearer text to read.

How To Break Up With Your Phone: A Non-Fiction Review

How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine PriceHow many times a day do you pick up your phone? Now, how many of those times are in response to notifications? How many are just to check?

If the answers to any of those questions is “Way too often,” you’re not alone. You’re not solely responsible either. Social media and, by extension, smartphones are designed to keep you on them and make you part of the attention economy converting your clicks and your time on your device to ad revenue.

If you’re ready to take back your phone (and your life), it’s time to admit this relationship needs some work. You need to breakup and, if you’re like me, you’re going to need some help to do it. Which is where How To Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life (2018) by Catherine Price comes in.

Find it on Bookshop.

At under 200 pages, Price’s book is a quick and approachable read about all of the things digital devices and sites do to keep people using them. Plus all of the things users can do to combat those ill-effects.

As I mentioned in my review of Digital Minimalism a lot of the aspects of breaking up with a digital device fall apart in the middle of a pandemic that demands you isolate and keep your distance from people.

That said, Price offers a step by step process to use for reducing time on your phone. I also appreciated that Price approaches this problem as one who has dealt with the same issues while acknowledging all of the great things a smartphone can do. Practical tips like turning off notifications and enabling app limits (or using an app blocker) go a long way to help interested readers make permanent changes.

Keeping the guiding questions “What do you love about your smartphone?” and “What do you want to pay attention to?” in mind, How to Break Up With Your Phone guides readers through a 30 day phone breakup including time to assess the damage (how much you use your phone), ways to redirect the energy you want to use on your phone, and how to let go of apps that aren’t working for you.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World: A Non-Fiction Review

Digital Minimalism by Cal NewportHow much time do you think you spend on your phone every day? How much of that time is spent talking to an actual person on a phone call? How much is texting? How much is scrolling different apps?

In one study one in three participants guessed they spent significantly less time on their smart phone than they actually do per day. While the average in this study was around five hours, some participants reported spending as many as twelve hours on their phone.

It’s no wonder, when the attention economy and social media are designed to keep people on their devices, using apps as much as possible.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (2019) by Cal Newport offers some ways to cut through all the things demanding our attention and decide what really matters.

Find it on Bookshop.

Digital Minimalism is divided into two parts “Foundations” and “Practices.” The first half of the book establishes the problem and details some of the causes while the second half offers actionable strategies for change.

Newport calls his approach “digital minimalism”–a way to gauge exactly how much is enough without ever over-using. While this phrase might conjure an image of Luddites eschewing all technology, the book is quick to point out that rather digital minimalists adopt new technology and apps with caution. If a device or site doesn’t add value to a digital minimalist’s life, they do not use it.

The main tenet of digital minimalism is starting with a clean slate after a 30 day digital break in which you are not using your phone as anything but a phone and avoiding all of its apps and other features. After this detox period, digital minimalists are advised to evaluate what digital apps and devices they reintroduce with the following questions: Does this technology directly support something that I deeply value? Is this technology the best way to support this value? How am I going to use this technology going forward to maximize its value and minimize its harms?

Although Newport’s approach has been widely praised, he fails to acknowledge the intrinsic value in written communication/social media as tools for human connection. In other words, for Newport, friendships and connections are seen as having limited value if they cannot take place in person or at least over a phone call. I found this view dated and, given the number of long distance friendships I have, unrealistic. It is also one facet of digital minimalism that falls apart under the strain of the Covid-19 pandemic.

While Digital Minimalism doesn’t tread new ground (and fails to cite books by women who cover similar topics), Newport does present the information clearly and succinctly–particularly in the first half covering the ill effects of this digital age and how ill-equipped we all are for these massive changes. Practical tips including deleting apps in favor of web versions and turning off notifications may feel commonsense but fit in well with the overall approach.

Readers interested in a more practical step-by-step approach to using their phone less will be better served by How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price. Readers who want to think more about living with intention and joy should also check out Marie Kondo’s books The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Joy at Work (with Scott Sonenshein) and Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski.

All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Non-Fiction Review

All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. JohnsonAll Boys Aren’t Blue (2020) by George M. Johnson (find it on Bookshop) collects essays by Johnson about his life growing up as a Black queer boy (and young man) in New Jersey and in his college years in Virginia.

The essays cover a range of topics from Johnson’s first identity crisis when he found out his name was George despite his family always calling him Matt (his middle name) to when his teeth were knocked out at five years old by neighbor kids. Stories of pushing against gender binaries, navigating high school while publicly closeted, and working up to coming up and living his true life in college all illustrate the challenges of triumphs of growing up to become your best self even if that is often in the absence of any support in terms of seeing yourself in media like TV shows or books like this one.

Each essay works well on its own presenting a contained story or anecdote from Johnson’s life although transitions between each chapter/essay fail to create a cohesive whole. Johnson addresses topics of drug use, sexual abuse with care guiding readers through these challenging topics while also giving them space to step away from the book if needed.

All Boys Aren’t Blue celebrates Black Joy, family, and individuality in a book that begins to fill a gap in written experiences for teen readers. If you decide to pick this one up and are able to read audiobooks, I highly recommend this one which is read by the author.

Talking to Strangers: A Non-Fiction Review

How did Fidel Castro and his spies fool the CIA for years? Why did Prime Minister Chamberlain think Hitler was trustworthy? How did no one realize what Bernie Madoff was doing with all of his investments? What transpired to make it possible for Larry Nassar to abuse countless patients at his gymnastics-centered medical practice–often with parents of his victims in the same room?

Author Malcolm Gladwell explores these questions and more in his latest book Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know (2019).

Find it on Bookshop.

Before we discuss anything else, you need to know this is not an easy book–especially not during the ongoing pandemic which adds its own kind of stress to everything. Additionally, the audiobook is narrated by Gladwell and features recordings of the people being quoted whenever possible. This choice has the double-edged result of making an excellent production while also making the events discussed that much more immediate and visceral for readers/listeners.

Talking to Strangers covers a few things most of which boil down to chapters about people in the worst situations or chapters about the worst people.

Gladwell uses what happened to Sandra Bland as entry point and framing device into his topic. Some of this is reductive as it sets aside the systemic racism at the root of police brutality and the unfair targeting of BIPOC citizens by police. Similarly Gladwell’s theory that sexual assault can ever come down to misunderstandings due to overdrinking and their resulting blackouts is hard to hear and very much the statement only a man could or would ever make.

Other chapters explore Castro’s spy network within the US, Hitler’s ability to mislead Chamberlain in advance of WWII, as well as other familiar news items. Most of which is hard to hear. The book ends with discussions of so-called “advance interrogation techniques” (torture) and the circumstances that may have helped lead to Sylvia Plath’s suicide.

Despite the difficult content, Talking to Strangers includes some useful insights people can bring to their interactions with others including the need for awareness of situational context, peoples’ tendency to believe the best in people, and the reality that people may broadcast one emotion with body language and mannerisms while presenting very different ones with their speech.

Talking to Strangers is informative if challenging to read with a solid introduction to a few key aspects of interpersonal communication as well as a deep exploration of current events that readers may or may not recognize from previous news viewing. I hesitate to say I’d recommend this book because I had such a hard time with it myself, but if the premise sounds interesting then you should definitely check it out.

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle: A Non-Fiction Review

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking The Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia NagoskiBurnout has become increasingly common in modern society–especially in the United States. Especially among millennials. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, especially among women.

Why is that? What can we do about it?

Emily Nagoski and her identical twin sister Amelia Nagoski tackle these questions in their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle (2019).

Find it on BookShop.

If you make a habit of reading up on self-care and anxiety, some of the information the Nagoskis share will be familiar. The book is also very gendered with a focus on what burnout and stress look like for women (cis and otherwise) although I would argue that the information on dealing with stress applies to anyone who reads it. (In this vein, the book has a very specific view on the way the patriarchy impacts stress.)

What works really well here is how the information is presented (and how it’s read if you choose to pick up the audio book which is read by the authors). The book is broken into three parts (What You Take With You, The Real Enemy, and Wax On, Wax Off) which examine what the stress cycle looks like, external stressors and how they often disproportionately impact women, and how to put the advice shared in the book into practice.

Each chapter has a TL;DR section breaking down key ideas. The book also pulls in pop culture references like The Hunger Games and Star Trek to unpack some of the science and practices covered. Although founded in research and experiences from actual women, the book also creates two composite women “Julie” and “Sophie” to demonstrate the experiences and practices being suggested as they move through their own stress cycles.

The great thing about Burnout is that is founded in positivity and the idea that we are all doing the best we can. If you are stressed and suffering from burnout, it isn’t a flaw or something to fix. It’s a symptom of a bigger problem–perhaps job dissatisfaction or difficulty asking for help.

A lot of the tone here is a little twee and precious–particularly on audio, but it doesn’t make the advice less sound. I can see why this wouldn’t work for everyone but it worked very well for me. A lot of the advice here is common sense but also framed in ways that helped me absorb and internalize things that I may have previously known to be true but not quite believe for my own life and experience.

Burnout: The Secret To Unlocking The Stress Cycle is an excellent resource for anyone looking to bring more balance (and obviously less stress) to their lives. The chapter on rest, in particular, should be required reading for everyone. Definitely worth a look if you’ve found yourself overwhelmed of late and, honestly, who hasn’t?

If you want to unpack more about why women are particularly likely to suffer from burnout and explore how science often fails to research and address concerns specific to women also be sure to check out Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez.

Possible Pairings: Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez, Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein, Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less – and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined by Scott Sonenshein