Adapted from a popular video series, “Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man,” Emmanuel Acho, former NFL player and sports analyst, lays out an accessible explanation of systemic racism for younger readers. The format of the book and casual conversational quality make it more approachable and easy to understand. He covers a wide range of topics that lend insight into what it’s like to be Black in America including relevant terminology, historical context, cultural appropriation, use of the N-word, voter suppression, etc. Although I don’t feel like his book is covering anything radically new in the realm of antiracism, the style feels fresh, and his call to action is perfect for younger audiences.
This is the Cadillac of books for cult-obsessed readers. What makes this particular fresh-take so interesting is that Amanda Montell hones in on the linguistic similarities between groups that many people agree upon as cults and those groups that display “cultish” behavior but may not be thought of as actual cults in our society. She starts by examining some groups that are commonly labeled cults including Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, Heaven’s Gate, and Scientology. She examines the commonalities that exist including leaders who function as “linguistic chameleons,” customizing word choice and style to influence whoever is in front of them. Most of these groups find ways to get followers to shed their old selves, submitting to this new collective. Heaven’s Gate followers were given new names with the suffix –ody to make them feel special and part of something unique. Scientology leaders co-opted terms from science and psychology to provide a sense of legitimacy to their claims. They also use an abundance of abbreviations for common words, creating a private language available only to followers. Montell then switches gears and begins examining other organizations that share similarly “cultish” language patterns. I’m fascinated by the section on multi-level-marketing companies (MLMs) because they’re so prominent in today’s social media world. This includes Amway, Mary Kay, LulaRoe, Arbonne, and so on. MLMs thrive on toxic positivity by continuing to peddle the dogma that hard work, blood, sweat, and tears will drive you to success while the MLM pyramid scheme parallels usually only benefit those on top. Just like cults, MLMs seek out people who are optimistic and hopeful and will continue gutting it out even when their savings account is dwindling away or their credit card bills are piling up. The forever-optimists will abide by the mantra, “if you’re not meeting goals, it’s because you need to work harder” and then attend that mega-convention where you’re expected to pay for your own flights, hotel, food, and merchandise. Even corporations like Amazon have shared cultish language. Montell wraps up by looking at the cultish behavior of fitness groups. From Peloton to Crossfit, there are leaders embroiled in controversy and characteristics that place these groups into the “cultish” category. The fitness coaches take on a worshipped god-like status where ritual brings followers into a shared community. People get hooked on the feeling of community. Sometimes the coaches at top levels are not even fitness experts, but are instead more successful in the down-line pyramid structure – scooping up new recruits who then also get new recruits under them and so on. And don’t worry, I see the amusing irony that I’m a cult fanatic reading about the language of fanatic cultish groups. Come, read this book - join us...
Victim F: From Crime Victims to Suspects to Survivors by Denise Huskins, Aaron Quinn, Nicole Weisensee Egan
What the shit did I just read? This was bonkers to the highest level, and the horrific part is that this book isn’t fiction. This insane, straight-out-of-a-movie sequence of events happened to a real couple. I remember hearing this story on the news when it first broke, and it all seemed so odd. Then reports switched to the “Gone Girl” victim who “faked it.” And then nothing. The news never circled back around when they were found to be innocent; the sensationalism had passed and none of the media outlets cared enough to report on the injustice. This is truly the stuff of nightmares.
In 2015, Denise Huskins and her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn, are terrorized in the middle of the night by armed men in wet suits flashing red laser beams. They’re bound, drugged, separated, and forced to listen to bizarre audio messages with instructions and threats. Denise is thrown in the trunk of a car and Aaron is ordered to stay in the home with a warning not to call police or Denise would be killed. The intruders tape off a boundary on the first floor for Aaron and inform him of the surveillance cameras that will be monitoring his every move. Aaron eventually contacts police due to his concern for Denise, but when they show up to rescue Aaron, he’s immediately treated as the suspect. Not only do they think he killed Denise, but later when Denise is released, they label her as the “real-life ‘Gone Girl’” who faked her own kidnapping despite mounds of evidence proving both Denise and Aaron were innocent victims. Denise was never given proper victim’s assistance as a sexual assault survivor. They lost their jobs. Some of their friends and family didn’t believe them. Social and news media were exceedingly cruel. The police department and investigators re-victimized this couple over and over again by refusing to follow evidence or admitting missteps. I can’t even begin to imagine surviving an ordeal as heinous as this and then finding that the justice system designed to protect its victims has failed so miserably. Aaron and Denise explain the myriad of ways this tragedy impacted their lives, their health, and their relationships. They read off social media messages they’ve received from random people spewing vile hatred and abuse. Despite the trauma, they find a way to cling to each other and develop as a couple instead of tearing each other apart. Their love story is heartening. I still can’t wrap my brain around this; it’s enraging, and probably one of my top five heartbreaking true crime reads.
Travel All the Pages is inspired by my two loves - travel and reading, a combo I can't resist. Enjoy these little pairings.