A beautifully written and provocative account of a woman’s spiritual journey.

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FROM MATZAH BALLS TO COMMUNION WAFERS

HOW A NOT-SO KOSHER JEWISH GIRL FELL IN LOVE WITH JESUS

A personal memoir of a Jewish woman’s search for spiritual solace in Christianity.

Debut author Baker grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, wary of her proselytizing Protestant neighbors. Her father embraced his identity as a Jew culturally but was thoroughly secular at heart and even once confessed to being a nonbeliever. The author continued this legacy when she married her husband, Steve—a devotedly nonreligious man—in a ceremony performed by a rabbi. However, when her 9-year-old son, Michael, began to struggle with a series of emotional problems—including depression, eating disorders, ungovernably defiant behavior, and, finally, drug addiction—Baker found that she needed a kind of spiritual support that her secular worldview couldn’t provide. She turned to the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and interrogated the religious contours of her inherited, secular Jewishness; then, she became drawn to Christian teaching, particularly the ways that Jesus’ ministry explained the nature of suffering and the guilt that she didn’t realize that she harbored. She was ultimately baptized, but she was afraid that her conversion to Christianity would draw disapproval from her family members and Jewish friends, so she largely kept it secret for the next 15 years. She found that those who were closest to her were the least receptive to her conversion, including her husband, who saw their shared irreligiousness as one of the bedrocks of their relationship. Nevertheless, she says that her newfound faith helped her to cope with her son’s troubles, the death of her father, and her mother’s serious illness as well as her own diagnosed PTSD. Baker writes with a deeply felt spirituality, her prose often elegantly taking on the form of prayer: “I continue to write so that I can better know what I feel and think about a matter. As a form of communication, it resembles prayer—reaching deep into my psyche and speaking to a subconscious part of my soul.” She artfully braids revealing, confessional memoir with thought-provoking reflections on the nature of her spirituality, which dwells in the convergence of mystical Judaism and Christianity. Her search for faith is a rigorously intellectual one, conducted through the meticulous study of not only the Bible, but also philosophy and theology. Still, her remembrance never devolves into an arid, scholarly study. However, the author does have a tendency to bombard readers with a rapid-fire succession of quotations; this can be engaging at times, but it also produces a sense of distance from the author, as she communicates too frequently through the words of others. Her recollection is still powerfully moving, though, and told with courage and self-effacing humor. With great nuance, Baker describes the profound consolation that she found in Christ as a Jewish woman, and in the process, she makes a valuable contribution to a deeper understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Finally, her account of abandoning earlier skepticism offers a fresh take on the possibility of détente between faith and reason.

A beautifully written and provocative account of a woman’s spiritual journey.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 168

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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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