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Books With Vision

By 49thShelf
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As our society weathers tumult and so much loss, we also have the chance to stretch our imaginations and envision a better and fairer kind of world. Here are some books whose authors are doing that work already.
Lean Out

Lean Out

A Meditation on the Madness of Modern Life
edition:Paperback
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Excerpt

From the Introduction

“What do you do when the work you love tastes like dust?”
I first heard this question in an airy newsroom in Vancouver, during a downpour in February of 2016. TED was in town, and I was watching a YouTube talk on burnout from TV mogul Shonda Rhimes. I had pitched a segment on this phenomenon for our morning radio show the next day, and was busy trying to track down an expert to talk about the global epidemic of overwork.

Watching the video, it dawned on me that Rhimes’s story was actually my own. And that her question couldn’t have come at a better time.

I was forty years old, and had been working at breakneck speed for fifteen years. I had traveled the world, from Soweto to Bangkok and Paris to Brooklyn, interviewing authors and community leaders, rappers and philanthropists, politicians and Hollywood celebrities. I had trekked the jungles of Borneo. Visited Buckingham Palace. Experienced the thrill of sitting down with Beyoncé. And of debating with Kanye West.

But in that moment, none of it seemed to matter. I was hunched over my desk, holding my torso, racked by chest pains that I was trying—and failing—to ignore.

My drive, always my greatest asset, suddenly felt like a dangerous liability.

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Why it's on the list ...
I just read this on the weekend—it's beautifully written and also rich with ideas, and while it's a personal story, the message is political and (spoiler alert) it all comes down to inequality in the end. An unequal society hurts everybody. Henley suggests ways to make things better.
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No More Nice Girls

No More Nice Girls

Gender, Power, and Why It’s Time to Stop Playing by the Rules
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Excerpt

On November 8, 2016, I tried to pretend the TVs at my gym did not exist. I’d shown up that night to my weekly class expecting to walk out sweaty and exalted. If America elected a woman as its leader (as all the pundits and polls suggested the country would) then, surely, Canada would follow. Anything felt possible. I imagined a cascade of broken status quos — belligerent white men in crisp suits falling like dominos. But over the next hour disbelief replaced excitement. At one point, our class melted away from our workout stations to pool, lost, around the TV. Women muttered shit, what, no, over and over again. That night, I couldn’t sleep. I stayed seated on my bed, cross-legged, stunned. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t American, or that one of the wokest men on Earth supposedly ran my own country. Electing a blatant misogynist to one of the world’s most powerful positions symbolized something: we were fucked.
Since then, the question of women and power has undergone something of a renaissance — largely because we’ve been forced to confront, once again, how much of it women still don’t have. Quite literally overnight, many of us went from believing, with good reason, that we’d never been closer to equality — and power — to reckoning with just how far away from both women truly were. In response, women woke up, gathered, and demanded change. All around the world, they protested. The momentum from the Women’s March on Washington built into #MeToo and a very public reckoning with the everyday ways in which women’s power and autonomy are constantly undermined.
Watching it all, I was galvanized. But I also felt as though I was stuck in a not-so-fun house of magic mirrors. Come one, come all! Watch as the road to equality shrinks, stretches, distorts! Sometimes it seemed as if our fury, powerful in its own right, could propel us anywhere we wanted to go: into public office, into the C-suite, into a world in which we had bodily autonomy. Other times, as the anti-feminist backlash grew louder, bolder, and more expansive, it seemed as though women were in our most precarious spot yet. I began to think of feminist power as a paradox: from some vantages, we seemed closer than ever to achieving it; from others, we’d never been farther away.
I have spent the bulk of my journalism career investigating the ways in which women navigate, and in many cases push back against, the expectations of the world around them. In doing this, I now realize, what I’ve really been asking, consciously or not, is how women disrupt and reimagine power structures, how they gain power both in and over their lives. Many of the women I’ve interviewed are pioneers in their fields, often ones dominated by men, and you could say they are subverting from within. Others are pushing at established power structures from the outside, rallying from the grassroots. They are all inspiring and amazing. But is what they’re doing working? These past few years have illuminated some stark, and seemingly contradictory, truths. Despite immense progress, no amount of success can immunize women against the toxic, sexist environments around them, and it is not uncommon for women to be utterly alone: one of few in their field, the only woman in management at their company, or the only one breaking a certain convention.
The more I heard their stories, the more I wondered: Even if a woman won the next American or Canadian federal election, what would that victory gain us? Or, put another way: Do we have the very concept of women and power all wrong? I’m not saying I want all the feminists to give up the fight, retreat to their kitchens, and let one pucker-mouthed man and his acolytes burn the planet. I want women to attain the same powerful positions afforded to men, in equal numbers. But it’s also dangerous to see that status, in and of itself, as a panacea to centuries of Western civilization, all built on foundational histories of sexism, misogyny, and violence against women. A woman prime minister certainly wouldn’t “cancel out” this seemingly new brand of misogyny, dredged up for all the world to see. In fact, the past few years have revealed that any woman, or member of another equity-seeking group, who stands where white, straight, cisgender men usually do is certain to face violent backlash. Or, as University of Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard argues in her short manifesto Women and Power, throughout time women have been placed in, or near to, positions of power simply to fail. To illustrate her point, Beard borrows from Greek mythology, referring to Clytemnestra, who rules over her city while her husband fights in the Trojan War, only to be murdered by her own children after she refuses to cede her new leadership upon his return (well, okay, she also killed her husband rather than go back down the patriarchal chain). Or more recently, Beard suggests, consider Theresa May or Hillary Clinton. For women, power is messy from every angle.
Perhaps, then, it’s finally time to start rethinking feminism’s one-time end goals, to ditch our old checklists for equality. Yes, let’s not abandon our strategizing toward getting more women to the top, but let’s also examine a deeper, less considered problem: that is, what the view from “the top” looks like for women once they’re there. What if we could redefine not just women’s path to power but the very concept of power itself? Or more radical yet: What if we stopped focusing on playing the game better, ditched the rulebook, and refused to play their game at all? What would power even look like to us if we weren’t always visualizing it within the context of men?

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Why it's on the list ...
Imagine a different kind of world, a different kind of power. We're seeing some of this in action now as public health officers who are women are leading Canada's fight against Covid-19. McKeon offers blue prints for a different way of doing things.
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The Skin We're In

The Skin We're In

A Year of Black Resistance and Power
edition:Hardcover
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Why it's on the list ...
Cole's inspiring account of a year of Black resistance and power urges us to imagine a different and better kind of world.
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Happy Parents Happy Kids

Happy Parents Happy Kids

What Happy, Healthy Parents Know About Raising Great Kids
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged :
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Why it's on the list ...
This is passionate political book disguised as a parenting manual. Like every other book on this list, HAPPY PARENTS... (which is very much in conversation with Tara Henley's release) underlines that the solutions to the problems of modern of life cannot arrive at the individual level, that a collective and community response is required. We're all in this together.
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Little Yellow House

Little Yellow House

Finding Community in a Changing Neighbourhood
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : canadian, urban, essays
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Why it's on the list ...
How to build community? How to love a city while acknowledging its many sides and its complexities. What is the opposite of gentrification? Halton's book is an absorbing, gorgeous, and inspiring read.
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Treed

Treed

Walking in Canada's Urban Forests
edition:Paperback
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Why it's on the list ...
How do you love the world with all its flaws? How do you love a tree while understanding its capacity to...die? What does it mean to be one with nature in the midst of climate change? The answers to all these questions are messy, and Gordon (a poet) writes about them beautifully.
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Shrewed

Shrewed

A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Women and Girls
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Audiobook
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Why it's on the list ...
Elizabeth Renzetti's is the first column many turn to in the Globe and Mail each week, and her second book, an essay collection, is a gift. How can we build a different kind of world for women and girls...and for everyone?
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Disfigured

Disfigured

On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space
edition:Paperback
also available: Audiobook eBook
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Why it's on the list ...
I LOVED this book, which I read in February, and have been recommending passionately every since. A compelling blend of memoir and scholarship (and entirely engaging), Leduc asks provocative questions about ideas so many of us tend to take for granted, and urges us to consider other possibilities.
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