I’m a slow reader, but I RACED through this book

Cover of the book So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Every time I walked past my bookshelf, I’d try and shield my eyes from it.

When I didn’t, it was hard to ignore: bright yellow and red spine, perfectly uncreased. It felt like the book was laughing at me.

Why d’you even bother buying me? Why am I even taking up space in your house?

I’ve always loved to read, and…. I’m lazy. The siren song of TV is often too loud for me to ignore in favour of a book. So when I am reading, what draws me in is fiction—transporting my brain to different worlds and experiences.

But my bookshelves aren’t stuffed with fiction. Other than a couple of my favourites, I usually give stories away after I finish them. Mostly, the books I’m housing in my home are non-fiction self-development books. Occasionally, I’ll hang on to them because there are some lessons or reminders I want to come back to. But the main reason I those shelves are full?

Because I’ve never read the books on them.

Why not?

Because they feel too much like HOMEWORK.

When I was a kid, even though I’d usually enjoy schoolwork once I got into it, I feel like my brain was primed at a young age to avoid doing any. Some of my most vivid teenage memories are of sitting in my kitchen at midnight—having snuck out of my room after my mum went to bed—drinking impossibly strong and sickly sweet coffee in an attempt to keep myself awake long enough to finish the Geography coursework that was due the next morning. At university, I didn’t finish a single essay before 5am on the day of the deadline. My resistance to anything HOMEWORK-y was so strong, I’d always leave it until the last minute.

What this means to grown-up Marsha is that even the non-fiction books my friends have raved about can feel like a slog. I have to read each paragraph three times, as I try to ignore the voice in my brain that whispers,

Don’t be fooled! This is HOMEWORK!! Ditch it and and go do something more fun instead!!

After listening to an interesting interview with the author, I’d bought a book about forming habits. Pretty quickly, seeing the book on my shelf, I’d forgotten why I thought I’d want to read it. I mean, I’m interested in general in human behaviour… but HABIT FORMATION? Dryyyyyyyyyyyyyy.

Every time I saw it, I’d feel the twinge of guilt that comes with a pointless purchase. Money wasted needlessly. Functionless clutter. But one day, running late for a flight and needing something to read, I grabbed it off the shelf. On the subway, I cracked it open and read the first sentence:

“She was the experimenters’ favourite participant.”

OOH. Why??? Why was she the favourite?? What was the experiment????

It turned out the book wasn’t dry at all.

Because it was all stories. The entire thing.

Sure, the writer had done his research and there was a lot of science inside. But he couched almost all of it in small, beautiful, visual STORIES.

You’ll note I haven’t mentioned the name of the book or the author. While you’re very welcome to ask me in the comments, the reason is because, right now (if not always!), I feel strongly that it’s the job of anyone with any kind of platform (*waves*) to use it to promote artists and authors who aren’t, (by educated guess) like this guy, straight, white, cis, nondisabled men. Not because their work isn’t good, just because they’re already getting plenty of opportunities for promotion. (Don’t worry, this Pulitzer Prize-winning fellow has a LOT of attention from people MUCH more influential than me :) )

So why am I telling you all this at all?

Because the same thing happened again last month, with a different book that I do want you to read.

For two years, a book has sat (once again, to my shame) on my bookshelf untouched. During what we may go on to call The Great Waking Up Of 2020 that we’ve recently experienced, I knew the next book I read needed to be a guide of some sorts for the antiracism and antioppression work that I need and want to do. Looking at all the recommended lists, I saw I already had one of the suggestions on my shelf.

I should mention that, unlike the days when I first had that habit book on my shelf, these days, my opportunities to read have dramatically shrunk. The arrival of the small person in my house means I’ve been running for a couple of years on fumes and adrenaline. My non-working alone-time has shrunk to almost zero and once I get into bed, I want to be asleep as quickly as possible before the human alarm gets me up at 5 or 6am.

Honestly, most of my reading gets done—one to two pages at a time—brushing my teeth at night or, let’s be real, on the toilet. It can take me months to finish a book.

But I RACED through this one.

So, You Want To Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo‘s first chapter starts right inside a story. And, just like I’m always teaching clients who want to use stories in their work to, Oluo doesn’t choose a big ticket, high-drama story. In fact, the one-sentence narrative could be, “Woman has frustrating conversation with friend in coffee shop.”

But it’s the description of the action scene that pulled me right in. It’s the opening sentence that lands us in the middle of the dialogue, so we’re desperate to know—what’s happening? What came before? What comes next? She continues this style throughout the book. And it’s fantastic.

As a white, cis, nondisabled lady (who straight people tend to read as straight), I find most of the antiracism work (/reading/discussions/actions) that I’m trying to do are a bit terrifying. I feel very out of my depth a lot of the time. In this book, along with her captivating storytelling, Ijeoma Oluo has a gift for inviting you in, engaging you and instructing you in way that is like a gentle but firm friend. She doesn’t mollycoddle or pacify, but she allows possibility that some of these might be brand new concepts, and does a fantastic job of explaining and exploring them.

On my bookshelf, alongside the most beloved fiction and the unread self-development, is one more category: multiple copies of the books that I love so much, I want everyone to read them.

“So, You Want To Talk About Race” has just been added to that shelf.

You can add it to yours buy buying it, ideally from your local indie bookstore
in the US, here,
in Canada, from one of these,
in the UK, from one of these,
or if you MUST line Bezos’ overstuffed pockets, you’ll find it on Amazon, here.

Thanks so much for reading! Do YOU have a book recco for me (not written by a white/straight/nondisabled/cis person, because I’m trying to pause on those for a while)? If so, let me know in the comments below! If you know anyone who would find this useful, you can share it with them using the round buttons below, or click here to share on Facebook

You rule!

xx (Yes Yes) Marsha

PS if you’d like to get more things like this, along with free email coaching on storytelling and business, AND get my epic guide for the magic bullet when it comes to telling captivating stories: Pop your details in below and you can get ALL of it when you join the Yes Yes Family. It’s FREE! And I’d love to see you in there:

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