An engrossing account of an intrepid life that somewhat suffers from a lack of introspective candor.

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SUCH A LIFE ON SUCH A PLANET

A debut autobiography chronicles a woman’s peripatetic wandering and her fascination with an esoteric spiritual text.

On a fateful Halloween night in 1970, while Jett was living in Kaimuki, Hawaii, she was offered a copy of The Urantia Book by a neighbor. A collection of unsigned papers, the tome was massive, bulging to more than 2,000 pages. Nevertheless, Jett was so fascinated by its contents—which included an account of ancient Egyptian religion and the teachings of Jesus—that she devoured it and joined a reading group devoted to its study. She eventually became involved in one of the organizations that promotes the book—she volunteered to be a membership co-chairperson for one of its chapters—and intensely followed the acrimonious disputes within that world over the proper stewardship of the The Urantia Book’s distribution to the reading public. Shortly after she was first introduced to the volume, Jett was compelled to confront the gradual dissolution of her marriage, a failure fueled by her husband’s untreated alcoholism. She finally made the decision to leave him with her three children and embarked for Tahiti with a relatively new friend, Paul. She eventually returned to Hawaii and began a relationship with Doug, a talented musician and music editor, and they married in 1980. She began working in the industry under his tutelage and wrote the story for a Rick Springfield music video. Doug died of cancer in 1986—a devastating emotional blow to the author. She would eventually marry a German businessman, Joe, with whom she moved to Croatia. Jett’s life is as eventful as it is wending, and her penchant for quick, impetuous decisions makes for a thrilling read. For example, when a friend called her from Germany to tell her he found the widow of Kurt Gerstein—an SS officer who opposed the Third Reich—the author immediately hopped on a plane to meet her. The entire recollection is infused with this spirit of adventure, an infectious lust for life and the blessings of serendipitous happenstance. As a result of her spontaneity, she would enjoy a private concert by Stevie Wonder, work on a music video for the rap group NWA, and become a screenwriter. Jett’s prose is plainly lucid and anecdotal, displaying all of the informality and confessional candor of an intimate letter written to an old friend. But haunting the entire volume rather than informing it is her preoccupation with The Urantia Book, something Jett discusses often but never really explains. She gives meticulously detailed accounts of the intramural disputes between organizations devoted to the work, which eventually roil into a courtroom battle. But the author says little about the book’s contents, which, as a result, will remain nebulously obscure to most readers. This omission will become a rampart to readers’ comprehension of the memoir, since Urantia seems to inform her every decision, catalyzing a lifelong spiritual quest.

An engrossing account of an intrepid life that somewhat suffers from a lack of introspective candor.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 225

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE

Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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