Two Career Books You Should Read Written By People of Colour

This book is all the things.

My day job is to help students at a large research-intensive university make meaning of their experiences and build purpose. I’m an experiential educator, a position that is a new application for me of my social planning background.  And although the past year has been a steep learning curve, I’m enjoying and growing in this new line of work.

Part of that learning has involved reading ”career” books, and one thing I have noticed is that it’s hard to find books about career that are written by people of colour. And so, every time I find a book that is written by a POC and talks about intersectional identities, I want to tell everyone I know about it.

And so as part of that slowly building list of books, I have two career books to share.

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Mohsin Hamid – I Didn’t Know You Could Write Like This

I‘ve never been a huge fan of Mohsin Hamid. I loved “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” initially but was disappointed and irritated by the end, I enjoyed his essay collection “Civilization and Its Discontents” and I couldn’t get through the beginning of “How to Get Filthy Rich in Asia.” His latest book though, “Exit West” is magical. I’m almost done and hoping that the ending doesn’t let me down. Read below for one of my favourite passages from the book.

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A Book that Helped Me with My Anger (On Reading The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah)

 

The first time I read a novel with Muslim characters, I was 21, and the book was “Does My Head Look Big in This?” by Randa Abdel-Fattah. The main character was sixteen years old, and even though the drama of being in high school and being the only person in a hijab was something I had experienced several years previously and had largely processed by then, it was affirming to read about a character who looked like me.

It was a lesson that women in hijab have stories worth telling.
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A Permission Slip to Go and Do Things – “Our Turn” by Kirstine Stewart & “The Hustle Economy”

I have a lot of take-aways from this book – “Our Turn by Kirstine Stewart

I’ve been thinking a lot about work and careers recently. After living in Johannesburg, South Africa for almost two years, I started a new job in an unfamiliar field in 2017. That job involved a country change as well, and because of my new role and new home, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my identity as a female, visibly Muslim, person of colour shows up at work, how to do well at work, how to find energy for projects that I want to pursue, and how to balance and manage the projects I want to do with family life and relationships given that “making things” often requires solitary focus and lots of time. It’s hard to find one book that addresses all those questions, so I’ve been reading different books for different purposes.

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Zadie Smith You Write Well (On Reading Swing Time)

Plane reading joys (Dec 2016)

Plane reading joys (Dec 2016)

In a way, I met my husband because of Zadie Smith. I used to run a bookclub in Toronto, and 2 years ago, our December book of choice was Zadie Smith’s novel “White Teeth”. Close friends had raved about Smith and talked about “White Teeth” as one of their favourite books, but I had never read any of her work before. Despite my excitement to read her for the first time though, I hated the book and gave up after 100 pages. So the first time I didn’t finish our book club selection was the first time my now husband attended the Seriously Planning bookclub.

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Drink (Tea) Every Time Guillebeau Refers to Africa as a Country

Adventure!

Adventure!

Yesterday I started and finished “The Happiness of Pursuit” by Chris Guillebeau. Guillbeau visited every country in the world by the time he was thirty-five (a fact he reminds readers of every few pages) and the book is supposed to be an exploration of how you too can find your own quest. According to Guillebeau, quests are projects that have a clear goal, a specific end point, and a defined set of milestones. Examples of quests are Guillebeau’s journey to visit every country in the world, a project to visit every basilica in the US, a project to walk across the US, a quest to never travel by car again, and the list goes on. This could have been an interesting read, but instead is just a poorly written book with no critical reflection and or ability to mention any African country without using stereotypes or using actual country names. When he talks about North America, he mentions specific town and city names (Manitoba, St. Louis etc) when he talks about an African country, he simply talks about visiting Africa. Here are (some) examples:

Sometimes I travel from the North America to the Africa too.

Sometimes I travel from the North America to the Africa too.

Thrilling Africa.

Thrilling Africa.

In between two cosmopolitan cities, the highlight is an African village

In between two cosmopolitan cities, the highlight is an African village

Trips to the Africa.

In addition, this book is completely devoid of any critical reflection or analysis of what it means to do a “quest”, and who gets to travel and pursue ridiculous journeys. There is no racial analysis, no discussion of privilege, and no examination of whether it is a good idea to seek meaning that is missing from your everyday life in a “faraway locale.” The chapters on creating personal lists and goal setting are interesting, but the flaws in this book make it impossible to take his advice seriously. Guillebeau says everyone can travel anywhere as long as they can save at least $2 a day, and seems unaware that that isn’t a measure that everyone can meet. Poverty and bills and responsibilities are not important variables as to whether or not someone can leave their life and go, in this book travel and adventure simply require that you are uncomfortable with your life and want to make a change in order to go out and do these things. He does spend a bit of time saying that you can do quests in the way that is meaningful for you, but he gives unrealistic examples of scaling down. For instance, if you feel like you can’t visit all the countries, 30 countries is pretty good too!

What isn’t discussed is that there are good and bad reasons to do a quest. He speaks of a friend who “after years of debauchery as a New York City nightclub promoter” finds his calling bringing clean water to Africa. He tells the story of another person who wants to connect with different cultures and decides to cook a different dish for her family from each country in the world. The ethics and validity of both of these projects are very different because the reasons for each project is very different, but there is little analysis in this book of personal motivations or broader political implications of the quests that people undertake. What does it mean to support oppressive regimes through travel? This a question that should be talked about because of the stories Guillebeau chooses to include, but isn’t discussed at all.

Ah so simple.

Ah so simple.

If you're wondering why this is bad, please read

If you’re wondering why this is bad, please read “The Ugly Tourist” by Jamaica Kincaid.

Last year I read “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” a delightful fictional read about a man who walks 500 miles across England to visit a colleague who is dying of cancer. The journey heals his marriage and his life, but he travels across small towns of England in his own country. Harold Fry’s journey is charming and sweet, this book is the opposite of that.

Further Reading:

  1. “The Ugly Tourist” by Jamaica Kincaid
  2. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

The Perfect Mother-Daughter Read – Thoughts on “Before We Visit The Goddess” by Chitra Bannerjeee Divakaruni

A magnificent read.

A magnificent read.

I am battling the flu, and a couple of days ago I sat in bed and read Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni’s AMAZING new book “Before We Visit the Goddess at one sitting. It’s an incredible book about the love that exists between mothers and daughters, the challenges of love, the vulnerability, fierceness and resilience of women, the challenges and solitude of immigration and the legacies we inherit from our mothers, grandmothers and greatgrandparents. It’s a magnificent book and one I highly highly recommend reading. Below are my #booktube reflections on the read.