September 2020 Book Reviews

September was an outstanding reading month. In fact, nearly everything I read was a winner. That means this will be a treat to write and possibly a treat to read as well!

The Last Girl by Nadia Murad

In 2018, Nadia Murad won a Nobel Peace Prize for her work to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. Nadia is a Yazidi woman who was kidnapped by ISIS in 2014 and forced into sexual slavery. The Last Girl is her memoir.

The first third of the book describes Nadia’s life in Kocho. It’s a hard life, her mother was her father’s second wife after his first wife died young leaving him with four children. He eventually divorced Nadia’s mother, leaving her to fend for herself and her children on her own. Murad describes a hard but happy childhood surrounded by her brothers and sisters, loved by her mother, dreaming of opening a beauty salon one day.

Then ISIS arrived. She lost her mother and six brothers on the first day and then things got hard. Her story is harrowing and she conveys the crippling fear, interminable waiting, and deep sorrow of her situation well.

This is a book worth reading. For one thing, this is one woman’s story but thousands suffered and still suffer. To read this book is to bear witness to their pain. Also, the Yazidi have lived the fate of so many landless peoples. They survive as a community at the whim of the nations that host them. They are incredibly vulnerable and reading this book helped me understand how that kind of vulnerability brings a community together. Do read this book.

A Woman is no Man by Etaf Rum

Our book club pick for September was written by Etaf Rum, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants who grew up in Brooklyn, New York. The novel is about the women in one family. Isra, a Palestinian woman who marries a Palestinian immigrant from Brooklyn, is the mother. Her daughter is Deya. The Isra part of the story starts in 1990 and stretches over a little less than a decade. The Deya part of the story starts in 2008 and tells the story of a few months during her last year of high school.

Deya lives with her conservative grandparents and believes both of her parents died in a car accident when she was about 6. She goes to a religious school and her grandmother is starting to plan her marriage, but Deya has other dreams. The novel is about her attempts to wrestle with the gaps in her past while trying to both please her grandmother and get some kind of control over her life.

Our discussion of this book was lively and engaging. The novel raises a lot of questions about women’s agency, the role women play in passing on their own pain, and the energy it takes to figure out who you are and what you want to do when your identity and your culture are only loosely anchored. I highly recommend this book and if you’ve got a book club, get it on the list!

The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

A friend recommended this book to me. The fact is that a lot of the story work I do with clients ends up being coaching work in one way or another. A few years ago, I thought it was a fluke, but by now I’m certain it’s a pattern that will be repeating. A fellow storyteller who started in coaching recommended The Coaching Habit to me and it was a great read.

The concept is simple: seven questions you can ask in order to help people help themselves.

It’s a quick read. It’s a useful read. It’s a fun read. 

Also, I’ve been using the questions on my kids and my husband and they work!

Circe by Madeline Miller

I’ve always wanted to know more about Greek mythology but most books about mythology that I’ve encountered so far have been purely plot-driven. A person does a thing. The action has consequences. Other people die. A god does a thing. There’s revenge. And so on and so forth.

These stories never stick with me. I cannot remember the names of the places or the sequence of events because there’s nothing for my brain to hold on to.

I’m a character-driven-story kind of person. Give me a book and I’m drawn to the characters in the book more than the events that happen. That made Circe the perfect book for me to learn a bit about Greek mythology. Circe is the witch who was exiled to an island for helping Prometheus during his trial. 

But this is Greek mythology, so of course the gods can’t leave her alone and people keep turning up for one reason or another. She turned a lot of them into pigs. This book is about her, though, her loneliness, compassion, and will. It’s beautifully written. I was blown away by descriptions of an ebony cave on page one and the quality of the writing never let up.

I’ll be looking for more books like this one in the future. It was a pleasure to read!

Influence by Robert Cialdini

I’ve read quite a bit about marketing over the past couple years because it’s something I need to learn how to do. Influence is one of those books that turns up in nearly all the bibliographies, so I decided it was time to give it a read.

The topic is interesting, basically looking at the six tools salespeople use to encourage their clients to buy. Some might say trick their clients into buying, but I’ll let you decide. Cialdini calls them “weapons of influence.” The weapons are familiar: 

  • Reciprocity (give and take)
  • Commitment and consistency
  • Social Proof
  • Liking
  • Authority
  • Scarcity

While it was useful to take a close look at these weapons and how they are used, it was a long hard read, friends. This book was first written in 1984 and reading it today will show you just how far non-fiction writing has come since then. Written today, this book would have been about 30% shorter and had fewer door-to-door salesman examples.

I’m pleased I’ve read it but unless reading original sources is your hobby, you’ll be fine passing on this one.

Posted in Books.

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