Category Archives: Non fiction

** They Were Her Property by Stephanie Jones-Rogers

They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South is a professional historian’s account of the role of women in slavery, concluding with the perhaps obvious statement that they (or at least some of them) were eager and often sophisticated actors in slavery. To make her argument, she cites legal records showing gifts of slaves to women (even girls), lawsuits between wives and husbands for control of slave ownership, and sales records proving that women were active and savvy traders. The details are stomach turning.

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** Life Admin by Elizabeth Emens

The title of Life Admin: How I Learned to Do Less, Do Better, and Live More makes it sound like a self-help book but it’s not, not really. It’s more of an expose of how much time we spend doing administrative work we need to do every day, work that’s neither fun nor recognized (nor paid!) but is nevertheless required to live. The author, with a full-time job and two small children, has a particularly hard time with the volume of life admin.

She astutely points out how life admin easily shifts to the person who does a task once, or better, or faster–and stays there forever. I’m not sure I would FaceTime with a friend to get through onerous tasks, but it might work for you! And, to the creators of life admin (schools, medical insurance companies, and the like): lighten up, will you!

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** Temp by Louis Hyman

Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary tries to tell two stories: that of the rise of temp labor, and another, of the large management consulting companies. It does a great job of describing both the life of temps and how they became so ubiquitous, through the recommendations of consulting companies. One the other hand, the detailed history of consulting companies, and the lifestyle of consultants and partners, seems pretty irrelevant and even distracting.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is showing that current labor laws are specifically poorly-designed for temps (or, said another way, the temp status was specifically designed to get around labor laws!) It would be important for politicians to understand that there are many of us without a regular paycheck, but we are forced to play by rules defined around so-called wage slaves.

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** Women’s Work by Megan Stack

Women’s Work: A Reckoning with Work and Home tells the stories of various women who took care of her home and children when she and her husband lived in China and India. She expertly recounts both the complicated relationships between employers and employees whose very job brings them into the intimacy of the home, and then she goes further, exploring the home lives of her employees including children left behind, alcoholism, poverty, and rough family lives. I felt that, by breaking the employer/employee (already fraying) divide, and from a position of strength, she may have exploited the workers even further. But it is an interesting view of domestic workers.

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** Help Me by Marianne Power

There are other books of the genre of Help Me! that show real-life attempts of following self-help books, but none as honest and funny as this one, in which the author undertakes to sort out her drinking, crushing debt, and so far unsuccessful search for a boyfriend by relying on self-help books. (She is a reasonably successful journalist, although impeded by too many hangovers and general disorganization.)

In a Bridget Jones sort of way, she takes us along as she struggles to organize her finances and conquer her fears of just about everything. The best chapter may well be when she decides to seek rejection by making outrageous requests, proving to herself that she can survive all kinds of humiliation (and sometimes get what she can only dream of!) The other hilarious part of the book are the contributions of her mother and friends to her efforts–and they are not all cheering. Perhaps the best part of the book is the fact that she is not the perfect success she was aiming for at the end.

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* The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker

The author of The Minimalist Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life is considerably more practical than our friend Sasaki, and the result is a perfectly reasonable, if blindingly obvious set of checklists, interspersed with fawning, mind boggling  testimonials (as in “we cleaned our home and that allowed us to adopt a child with special needs”).

Mari Kondo is still the queen.

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** Girl in Black and White by Jessie Morgan-Owens

Mary Mildred Williams, whose photo graces the cover Girl in Black and White: The Story of Mary Mildred Williams and the Abolition Movement was a slave because her mother was a slave, but she looked so white that she was used by Senator Sumner in abolitionist lectures, with the very uncomfortable argument that a system that enslaves white people must be wrong. O, Senator Sumner! The book traces the history of Mary’s family, starting with her grandmother and the complicated family of her master, and the various legal judgments that accompanied Mary’s move to Boston.

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