Transformative Ideas

In this time of isolation, I have been reminded how lucky we are to have books that introduce us to transformative narratives. I have sought out stories in which I am confronted with challenging ideas, new concepts, and ways to see familiar experiences articulated in revelatory ways. 

One such narrative is Stephanie Land’s “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive,” a memoir of her years working as a domestic cleaner who relied on public assistance programs while a single mom. She depicts the classist stigma, bureaucratic incompetence, and physical and mental toil of low-income living. She tells of the eventual realization of her dream to attend college. 

“All You Can Ever Know,” by Nicole Chung, also is a powerful memoir. She paints a complex portrait of the realities of interracial adoption. She faced discrimination as an Asian American child adopted by white parents who was raised in a majority white community. The book also reveals Chung’s search for her birth parents, and how this journey caused her concept of family to evolve and deepen.  

Terese Marie Mailhot began writing “Heart Berries” after committing herself into a mental institution. She is unrelenting in her honesty about details of her childhood and young adulthood on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in British Columbia. Much of the book is written in the form of letters to her husband Casey, a white man, with the purpose of getting him “to understand my experiences as an Indigenous woman.” She writes that in the end she realized she was not simply trying to validate her feelings to him, but “about trying to articulate to the world — that we might appear to have all these stigmas and stereotypes, and we might be burdened by that, but I wanted to show the humanity of my character and who I am.”

Another book about claiming space and asserting humanity is Carmen Maria Machado’s “In the Dream House,” an experimental memoir that is a harrowing recollection of an abusive relationship, a scholarly examination of the form and function of the fairy tale, and an account of the erasure of queer history. 

It is not always the book itself that transforms. It can be the experience of reading. One Book | One Minnesota, in partnership with State Library Services, is offering a statewide digital book club. Learn soon about its summer reading title here. 

Whether you are reading a book alongside thousands, with a handful of friends, or happily solo, may you find solace, humor, joy, and perhaps something transformational in its pages.