Petra Mayer's August Book Picks
"Against White Feminism" by Rafia Zakaria
Mainstream Western feminism has, as Rafia Zakaria is reminding us here, always been for and about white women. Our concerns and our agendas have been taken as universal. We've been sidelining and speaking over Black and Brown women for as long as feminism has existed. And that has done terrible harm in the world, and it needs to be torn down and rebuilt.
Zakaria lays it all out in these eight essays showing how the kind of white feminism we have today has evolved, going back to British colonial ideas of civilization and reform coming from the West. If you think about it, you can picture the classic image of the white savior woman out bringing aid to the Natives, interpreting their stories for the people back home, which is just the most damaging narrative.
Zakaria shows us how to break that all down and rebuild a feminism that includes everyone and doesn't just default to a women-versus-men structure that assumes all the pieces on the board are white.
"Seeing Ghosts" by Kat Chow
If you loved "Crying In H Mart," then this is what you should read next, though maybe with a little break for something less emotionally intense in between.
"Seeing Ghosts" is Kat Chow's story of coming to terms with the death of her mother — woven through with the story of her mother's life, childhood in China, emigrating to America, marriage to her father, and ultimately death from cancer.
It could be such a heavy story, but it's got this marvelous mix of poetry and dry humor; it starts with a story about her mother joking that she'd like to be stuffed and mounted like the taxidermied bear at the L.L. Bean store in Maine.
The memoir is just so heartfelt, gorgeously written and rich in detail. Chow is one of those writers — and I like to think this is because she comes from radio — who puts you in a scene so directly that you can taste the food, hear the newspaper rustle, feel the living room carpet under your hand or a mother's breath against your cheek. This is just a lovely, lovely book.
"My Heart is a Chainsaw" by Stephen Graham Jones
Even if you don't like horror, you should still make time for a Stephen Graham Jones book. And this one is funny, layered and packs a hell of a punch — don't say I didn't warn you.
It's about a girl named Jade living in a small rural lake town. She's half Native American, her father's an abusive jerk, her mom's gone, she's kind of an outcast, and all she really cares about is slasher movies. They're the frame through which she sees her whole existence, so of course, there really is going to be some bloodshed happening. And Jade has seen so many slasher films, she immediately assumes something terrible is going on and figures out how it's going to play out.
Jones does something genius here — Jade has such an encyclopedic knowledge of these movies that even if you ran away the first time you saw a trailer for "Friday the 13th," you won't get lost. She calls out every trope she sees and there are even bits of her school papers about horror movies scattered through the story.
"Redemptor" by Jordan Ifueko
This is the second book in a series that began last summer with "Raybearer," an absolutely fantastic African-influenced young adult fantasy novel about a girl whose mother sends her on a quest to kill the crown prince of their country but instead, she ends up as an empress ruling beside him.
So this is where we find her at the beginning of "Redemptor" — on the throne but absolutely racked with grief and guilt about what she had to do to get there, dealing with this terrible bargain she had to make with some underworld spirits and coping with her friends going strange and distant.
It's definitely harder to keep a throne than it is to get one. But even though it's a little darker this time, Jordan Ifueko has built an amazing world and it's a treat to go back there.
"The Heart Principle" by Helen Hoang
If you've read Helen Hoang's other books, you'll be happy to recognize Quan — he's the tattooed, motorcycle-riding brother of Khai from "The Bride Test" and cousin of Michael from "The Kiss Quotient." Fans have been eagerly waiting for him to get his own book.
His love interest is Anna, an incredibly talented violinist who's struggling with burnout and some very serious family issues. I won't get into the details of how they get together, but the glory of any good romance is how two people get to know themselves as much as each other. And Anna, like many of Helen Hoang's characters, is autistic, something she realizes in a very powerful way over the course of the story.
Fair warning: There is some extremely sad stuff in "The Heart Principle." But if you like a good cry on the way to your happy ending, this is the book for you.
This segment aired on August 23, 2021.