Hope you had a great weekend. I finally read The Other Black Girl last week and, upon finishing it, immediately had the “I must discuss this” feeling. If you’ve read it and want to chat about it, respond to this email or leave a comment.
I’m a bit under the weather today, so I think I’ll dive right in to this week’s recs.
What to read if…
You Devoured the New LuLaRoe Documentary
Two friends and I recently had a long-distance viewing party of “LuLaRich,” Amazon’s new four-part docuseries about the leggings company, LuLaRoe, accused of being a pyramid scheme. The documentary makes a compelling case that the company sold its sellers on an impossible dream — that by buying a few thousand dollars of inventory they could make hundreds of thousands. I’ve been following the LuLaRoe story for a few years and thought the documentary was well-done.
Former sellers describe LuLaRoe’s program as reminiscent of cult behavior — an argument similar to one made in Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism. In the book, linguist Amanda Montell documents the way multi-level marketing groups (MLMs), like LuLaRoe, and fitness groups, such as CrossFit and Soul Cycle, use language similar to that of cult leaders to get people into their activities and then keep them hooked.
The first third of Cultish focuses on the words and phrases used by leaders of infamous cults, including Jim Jones’ group The Peoples, Heaven’s Gate and the Church of Scientology. As a linguist, she dissects individual sentences, showing the persuasive tactics in them. She builds on this work in the rest of the book, comparing the language of cult leaders to phrases used by MLM leaders.
I learned a lot from Cultish and enjoyed the read. Montell is an amusing writer, not afraid to offer entertaining sidebars, who excels at helping non-linguists understand her field. If you share my fascination with cults or multi-level marketing schemes, give it a try.
You’re Looking for Your Next Memoir
A Twitter acquaintance recently asked for recommendations of memoirs about motherhood. My mind immediately went to Ashley C. Ford’s brilliant Somebody’s Daughter* (as well as three other previous recommendations — Wild Game, All You Can Ever Know and The Liar’s Club — apparently I like memoirs about mothers and daughters).
Early in her memoir, Ford recounts the day her grandmother dug a hole in their Missouri backyard and showed her young granddaughter garden snakes wrapped up around each other, knotted, even. As she lights a match, her grandmother explains the snakes are loving each other. As she drops the burning match on the snakes she adds, “These things catch fire without letting each other go.” “We don’t give up on our people. We don’t stop loving them. … Not even when we’re burning alive.”
The snakes serve as a metaphor for Ford’s relationship with her abusive mother and imprisoned father. While the book is framed around Ford’s father’s release from prison, most of it focuses on her mother. It’s the mark of an exceptional writer — and person — that she writes lovingly and empathetically about her mother, recounting both terrifying beatings and cozy movie nights. As critic Oriana Christ noted in a review, Somebody’s Daughter is “at once gut-wrenching and heartwarming” and one of those books I’ve spent time reflecting on months after finishing it.
You Want an Adult Westing Game
A few months ago, when I recommended fans of Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Gamecheck out Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, I heard from a bunch of you saying that you too loved the middle-grade classic. I also received multiple recommendations for Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts, and after reading it, I’m excited to pass along the suggestion.
The titular Tuesday Mooney is a bit of a loner who throws herself into her job as a researcher in the development office of a hospital and watches reruns of “The X-Files,” until a mysterious Bostonian dies and promises a fortune to those who complete his treasure hunt. Tuesday, who has a knack for solving puzzles, quickly becomes a leader in the city-wide contest. She’s joined on her quest by a snarky friend, a sharp teenager and a mysterious, handsome and wealthy stranger.
Tuesday is a great heroine, loveable and pop-culture obsessed, who is working hard to accept the disappearance of her childhood best friend. She’s the type of character you root for, not just to win the contest, but to grow into a stronger, happier person. As the title implies, there’s a bit of a supernatural element to the book, but nothing that will turn off those who hate ghost stories or Westing Game fans. I’m so glad you all shared this book with me and am looking forward to reading Kate Racculia’s other books.
*I received a free audiobook of Somebody’s Daughter from Libro.FM in exchange for an honest review.
What to Read If is a free weekly book recommendation newsletter. Need a rec? Want to gush about a book? Reply to this email, leave a comment or find me on Twitter @elizabethheld.
If you’re reading this on Substack or were forwarded this email, and you’d like to subscribe, click the button below.
Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.