We love a good book here at the Law Center, so we’ve turned our love of sharing book recommendations with each other into an annual blog post where we compile Law Center staff’s favorite reads of the last year. Below you’ll find eight very different books, but books that all ultimately expanded our sense of self and understanding of the world. We hope you enjoy them too!
Dorian Payán's Recommendations
This was my last read of 2022 and I had a lot of fun reading it. It wasn’t definitely a niche read and wouldn’t recommend it unless people are particularly interested in what the northern frontier of settler Mexico looked like after the Mexican-American War. Shoutout to archive.org for having this available for view! With this book, I learned a lot more about the economic conditions that set the stage for the Mexican Revolution, and how one dynasty in the state of Chihuahua - the Terrazas family - managed to centralize so much of the state’s wealth into their hands during the revolution’s antebellum. The Terrazas were such impressive strategy players, braving the French Intervention (French invasion) in Mexico, the Porfiriato (Mexican dictatorship), and the flow of foreign investment during the railroad expansion era. Ultimately though, it was their overbearing presence in the state that led to their demise when the burgeoning middle class sought to vent their frustrations at how little of the pie they got to eat relative to the elite. This is of course one of many theories as to what started the Revolution. It’s a lively topic.
This was an important read from me given that I am from Chihuahua, and the experience of being a northern Mexican is both so different and yet so connected to narratives of Mexico at-large. I’ve always known I was forged as a “Mexican” in the missions, the haciendas, and the mines but am only now starting to dig into the subtleties. Seeing how a small group of giant elites shuffled the fate of my ancestors around is chilling and humbling at the same time. So much of what brings me into existence today was circumstance and survival. While I think it’s important to honor that, I found it especially useful to learn that agitation didn’t come from absolute poverty, but rather an economic class with enough breathing room to challenge what seemed to be an unchanging reality.
The Ecology of Law: Toward a Legal System in Tune with Nature and Community by Fritjof Capra and Uggo Matei
The Ecology of Law is a 101 read for anyone who engages with legal work either by choice or by circumstance. So many people go into legal work because they believe that if they just understand it well enough, they’ll form the necessary strength to grasp the arch of justice and bend it themselves. And while we do need frontline lawyers keeping us from falling into the slippery slope of fascism, this book takes a step back into explaining how we further entrench ourselves into demise and extinction by not questioning how our legal system itself limits the way we can relate to each other and to our environment.
My favorite part of this book was understanding how the Cartesian worldview developed our so-called legal traditions, and how the conniving craft of people such as Hugo Grotius was used to justify colonial expansion. One caveat I will make about this book is that so much has happened since its publication in 2015, so I would supplement the recommendations of this book with some more up-to-date initiatives. I’m proud to work for an organization that I believe is learning to untangle ourselves from our current legal systems while tuning into the generative wisdom of the BIPOC communities we serve.
Mwende Hinojosa's Recommendations
My four year old kid loves to help cook in the kitchen. She loves chopping vegetables with her kid safe knives, cracking eggs, and stirring food in the skillet. I’ve always loved to cook, but with an eager little chef by my side, I’ve gotten interested in learning new recipes with her. So in 2022, I read a lot of cookbooks.
My paternal grandmother grew up in Shanghai, with mixed Chinese heritage. She was an incredible cook, who loved to teach me how to cook cherished dishes from her childhood; especially the dishes that utilize leftovers to turn them into something wonderful and new. I have fond memories of her taking me to dim sum restaurants in Fresno, practicing her rusty Shanghainese with the folks pushing around the carts. A few years ago, I started looking for Shanghainese recipes, but struggled to find recipes written by Chinese people. I was so excited when I found Bill & Judy, and daughters Sarah & Kaitlin, and their blog The Woks of Life. Their recipes have both the Western spelling, phonetic Chinese words written in English, and Chinese characters for ingredients and dish names. They tell personal family stories about the dishes and take the most scrumptious looking photos. Everything I ever made from their blog was a hit with my family. When I saw they were coming out with a cookbook in 2022, I pre-ordered it! The Woks of Life: Recipes to Know and Love from a Chinese American Family is a perfect mix of cookbook, culinary tips and tricks, and the story of an intergenerational Chinese American family. I love this family so much, I wish I could go to their house for dinner. My favorite dish from the book (that I’ve tried so far!): Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Spicy Dipping Sauce.
Another cookbook I jumped at the chance to read last year was, Black Food by Bryant Terry. Back when I was a vegetarian, I took inspiration from Terry’s recipes that uplift plant based dishes within the Black Diaspora, dispelling myths about what constitutes Black food. In this latest book, Terry gathers Black chefs, food activists, artists, land stewards, and writers to gather a book of not just recipes, but a narrative about Black foodways within America and the greater Black Diaspora. I feel like Black food has finally been getting the recognition it deserves within the mainstream through TV series like High on the Hog and this beautiful book. I’m excited to take this book off the shelf over and over again, and teach my daughter a little something about the richness of Black Food every time. My favorite dish from the book: Somali Lamb Stew by Hawa Hassan (and I use goat instead of lamb).
At a certain point, isn’t everything just about reconciling our childhood experiences with the people we want to become? How do our relationships with our parents and caregivers as children build the models for how we relate to others as we age? Attachment theory has been gaining popularity as a way to understand the sticky dynamics that seem to get in the way of secure, bonded relationships of trust, care, and self-actualization. Many people seek out information on attachment theory when it comes to their romantic relationships and much of that literature is focused on conventional, monogamous relationships. But what if we are in, or are interested in pursuing, non-monogamous relationships? What does attachment theory say about that? Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma, and Consensual Nonmonogamy by Jessica Fern gives us much needed guidance on how this theory, articulated by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby, can help us navigate non-monogamous, romantic relationships. Knowing our attachment styles can make us more aware of ourselves, more responsible to our partners, and more compassionate to that child that still lives within ourselves. Even if I wasn’t pursuing non-monogamous relationships, this book provided incredibly helpful models to think about the connections I have with my partners, past and present. It clarified assumptions underneath conventional relationship structures that we knowingly and unknowingly reintegrate into even unconventional partnerships; what were ways that I allowed conventional relationship structures to reify gender, class, and racial dynamics in my personal relationships? This has also impacted the way I think about the work I do at SELC, re-emphasizing the vital importance that the structures and processes we create are there primarily to support the types of cultures and the quality of relationships that we want to bind our communities together. How can we move into a new future if we can’t first liberate ourselves from the learned models that keep us alienated from ourselves and each other? This book provides a piece to that puzzle.
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline and its sequel Hunting By Stars
With nine months off for parental leave, I had high hopes for my reading goals in 2022 but I ended up reading much less than I usually do. Babies are distracting! One of the only books that managed to hold my attention was Cherie Dimaline’s Hunting by Stars. In the dystopian world of The Marrow Thieves, everyone has lost the ability to dream… everyone except the Indigenous people of North America. In Canada, the government kidnaps the dreamers to harvest their bone marrow, which is believed to hold the ability to dream. The book focuses less on the sci-fi aspect of stealing bone marrow and more on how the characters in the book find hope and community in such dark and dangerous times. Pay close attention to side characters like Wab and Miigwans whose stories brought me to tears, forcing me to reflect on whether I myself would “risk everything for a life worth living, even if [I’m] not the one who’ll be alive to live it.”
Tobias Damm-Luhr's Recommendation
On January 6, 2021, my third day of work at the Law Center, I was stunned and horrified by what happened - literally frozen (one of the trauma responses that Resmaa Menakem discusses). But I soon defrosted and fled back to my everyday work and routine (another trauma response), with a small buzzing background worry about what it all meant and what the far right is doing in the United States. In the year that followed, I read Resmaa Menakem’s My Grandmother’s Hands. That book helped me understand the origins of racism in the trauma that my ancestors experienced in Europe, and what is needed from me and other white people to start changing white culture collectively, and contribute to the healing of our nation’s racial trauma. In July 2022 I saw The Quaking of America in a bookstore and thought, “Oh my god, I have to read this as quickly as possible, this is urgently needed!” It took me about 5 months to get through the book, which the author wrote in response to January 6. At many points I found it emotionally difficult - and worth it: it really helped me make sense of what happened that day, in terms of what forces and players gave rise to the events, what the far right is still doing and what may happen in the future. It has also helped me to start preparing myself - on a mental, emotional and physical level - for what might come down the road, and has motivated me even more to work together with other white-identified people to build a new culture for ourselves that is not based on domination but on love, trust, healing, cooperation and gratitude to the Earth.
Erika Sato's Recommendation
The Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir
This series is unlike any I’ve read before. When I first started these books, I wasn’t sure if I liked them. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, they live in a complex world with history and rules that unfold slowly, and it’s frustrating to keep track of it all. It wasn’t until my second time through the second book that I began to realize what a masterpiece they were, and the third book that I fell in love. While anxiously awaiting the fourth addition, I’ve been re-read books 1-3 multiple times because there’s so much going on in each that I find new delights and connections each time. I’ve even found myself on Reddit reading other people’s explanations and hypotheses and musings about the books, which I never do.
One aspect I love about these books is that queerness is so completely normalized in the society that Muir dreams up. To be clear, theirs is a traditional society with rules to be followed, but our own conceptions of gender and sexuality are not among those rules.
Another is the way these books cover childhood trauma and its lasting effects. Although this series follows necromancers and their cavaliers and deals in bone, blood, flesh, and spirit magic, all of this is just an exciting medium that Muir uses to weave the ultimate story about her characters and their relationships and personal growth. Each book is told from the perspective of a different character, and has a completely different tone, yet uses that perspective to tell different sides of the same story. Gideon, the first book, employs a humorous, jock-like, gallant and at times arrogant tone, forming an almost absurd juxtaposition with the death and dead bodies that make up the content of the book. Harrow, the second book, employs a lonely, serious tone and themes include grief, dissociation and self-hatred. Nona, the third book, employs a childlike, loving, carefree tone.
Other themes include the slow unfolding of religion, the destruction committed by well-meaning people, duty, and power. If you have the time and energy to devote to immersing yourself in this universe for a few weeks, I highly recommend it as these books have left me reeling like none other I’ve read before.