January 8th, 2021

Big Ideas from Reading in 2020

While some people may give you their top books of the year, I'm going to talk about the top ideas that have change my thinking in the year. Things that I keep revisiting and feel I'll revisit for years to come as I deepen my reading on those topics.

How to Take Smart Notes

The first idea to mention comes out of How to Take Smart Notes. In the same way that How to Read A Book revolutionized how I read books, this book changed how I take notes on books. I feel that most notes taken before changing my process to mimic the one provided here are almost entirely wasted. I felt the same way about the books I read before reading How to Read A Book.

On Racism and Misogyny

These two topics are so closely related I find it hard to keep the ideas apart in any meaningful fashion. From Reni Eddo-Lodge I was introduced to the idea that it's white people that are enforcing racism, but it's all people of colour that are paying that price. They're also paying the price for the education of white people who ignore their privilege.

This same idea was present in Raising Empowered Daughters when it comes to misogyny. Men, pushed hard by white men, enforce the rules of manhood which often state that the worst thing you can be is feminine. The burden of the terrible behaviour is put on women, as is the education of men to stop being...assholes.

From The Underground Girls of Kabul I got a picture of the cost that misogyny exacts on women in Afghanistan. At the same time I saw so many similarities to how we treat women in North America that I can only conclude we simply do a better job at hiding how we oppress women in North America. This was strongly reinforced by Raising Empowered Daughters, which ended up being a strong book against misogyny disguised as a parenting book.

Similarly, when reading The Inconvenient Indian and Words Have a Past I couldn't help but thinking we talk a big game about how other countries shouldn't be abusing their populace, and then we ignore treaties we made with First Nations in Canada.

That leaves us with instances like 1492 Landback Lane where First Nations have land by treaty right, and the government is dragging their heals on doing anything about it. They put it off to the courts, but The Inconvenient Indian showed how usually that results in First Nations being offered money because the land was stolen. All they want is the land back, but that rarely happens. There were so many examples of that happening in the book that it was mind boggling how poorly we treat First Nations in Canada and the United States.

We chastise other nations, and put a barely prettier face on the abuse we heap on the First Nations next door to us.

Scarcity

One big idea that's been sticking with me this year is the idea that we have a limited amount of bandwidth to think about everything. If we're stressed out, we have less bandwidth and that makes it so much harder to make good decisions in any facet of our lives.

Stressing about money makes it harder to be a good parent or avoid wasting time on inferior good items, like social media or video games. Having made too many commitments to others with our time makes it hard to make good decisions about money...or anything else in our lives.

Relating back to the topic of racism and misogyny, the background stress of being a person of colour or women is huge. Continually worrying about what white people, or men may say to you because you took up space they feel entitled to reduces your bandwidth in huge ways.

I can't imagine all the amazing people of colour and women we're missing from so many sectors of life because they don't have the extra capacity to do the work they could in the midst of the background stress of existing.

The high cost white men impose on others for existing is insane.

The Savvy Ally

I've said it a number of times that I grew up in a traditional Christian household. I was taught that the LGBTQ+ community was in sin and we need to tread very carefully so we don't fall into that same sin. I admit that I don't know where I sit with my faith currently in regards to the LGBTQ+ community, outside of the fact that they deserve the same rights that everyone else gets and should face no discrimination. I'm still working on what the Bible says.

One of the most interesting things to look at in The Savvy Ally was the different components of human sex, gender and sexuality. Jeannie Gainsburg provides us with five components that make up our gender and sexuality.

From your biological sex, to your gender identity, to your gender expression to who you want to be naked with. Using her ideas I could say that I was born male. My gender identity is male. My gender expression is trending towards something between traditionally male and female, at least in my colour preferences. I'm attracted to females, and I want to be naked with females.

I appreciated the extra words I can now think through as I look at my own gender and gender expression and sexuality. I'll be talking specifically about this book in the coming weeks.

The Library Book

Finally I want to mention The Library Book. I keep coming back to this book because it was so well written. By the end you're left wondering if the accused actually did set the fire...or not.

Woven throughout this true crime story is a love for reading and everything books. It's a look at the history of the Los Angeles Library and how libraries have moved from places for books to places in the community that serve the homeless and drug addicted the rest of society has thrown out. Often the library is the only place they can go without paying anything to stay warm in the winter.

What books stood out to you this year?