Welcome to SHAPE’s monthly book club, where we round up this month's must-reads across wellness, nutrition, fitness, and mindfulness.
While the election is officially in the rear-view mirror (🙌🏻), the coronavirus pandemic, unfortunately, is not. And as temps drop, staying inside has never been more appealing — or, TBH, crucial. All that's to say, if you haven't picked up reading as a hobby during quarantine (or upped your monthly quota), now is the time: A 2009 study by researchers at the University of Sussex showed that reading decreases stress by 68 percent and helps keep insomnia at bay. (And those are just two of the many health benefits of reading.)
Need some new material? Ahead, some of the best picks for November reads: three brand-new memoirs by trailblazing ladies in the worlds of soccer, vegetarianism, and body positivity.
In her first memoir (written with journalist Emma Brockes), Rapinoe discusses the ways she uses her privileges as a "small, white, female soccer player" to advocate for racial, gender, and marriage equality. The book opens with her decision to kneel during the National Anthem prior to a U.S. Women's National Team game in 2016. The act was in support of Colin Kaepernick, who'd received an onslaught of backlash a week earlier for kneeling during the anthem at an NFL game.
From there, Rapinoe traces her childhood growing up in a large, wildly athletic family in conservative Redding, California; opens up about her and her twin Rachael's respective coming-out stories; and details her first forays into the professional women's soccer world. Of course, readers also hear about the USWNT lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation (which was dismissed in May 2020 by a federal judge) and what it was like falling in love with her partner (and recent fiancé), WNBA player Sue Bird. Throughout it all — the ups (embracing her sexuality), the downs (her brother’s incarceration) — Rapinoe’s message remains clear: that everyone, no matter the size of their platform, has an obligation to speak up and put in the work. And this is especially true for those, such as Rapinoe herself, who are recognize their privilege. "I have always understood that once you have a tiny bit of power, space, or control, you should do everything you can to share it," she writes.
Following the 2019 World Cup win that catapulted her onto the international stage, Rapinoe received a bevy of awards for her activism, despite speaking out on the heels of Colin Kaepernick. "While I was enjoying the best year of my career, Colin was still out of a job," she writes near the end of the book. "We'd said and highlighted the same things about racism, but he was out and I was in. You do the math."
Once upon a time, the word “vegetarian” exclusively conjured up images of bland tofu and boiled veggies — then chef Deborah Madison came along and all of that changed. Deemed the “Queen of Greens” by the Washington Post, Madison is best known as the James Beard award-winning chef that put the vibrant, flavorful vegetarian dishes so many know and love today on the menu — literally and figuratively. And in her November memoir, she tells the mouthwatering (yes, mouthwatering) tale of how she played a pivotal role in mainstreaming vegetarian food...while eating meat.
In 1969, Madison became a student at the Zen Center, a self-sustaining Buddhist community in San Francisco, where she eventually became the Center’s de facto chef and studied Zen Buddhism for almost 20 years. The first of Zen Buddhism’s five precepts or commitments is to refrain from taking life, so it was natural that the Center’s kitchen be vegetarian — and that Madison stop eating meat. "I learned how to make brown rice for sixty, miso soup, a few arcane vegetable stews, gomasio (sesame salt), and pancakes without the benefit of baking powder, sugar, eggs, or milk," she writes of those first years as the Center's chef. But Madison wanted to experiment with more surprising, flavorful meals and soon found herself adding cheese, seasonings, flour, and olive oil to make the vegetarian eats more exciting. "Since vegetables tend to be sweet and lacking in anything that approaches the texture of muscle, it was a huge challenge to create vegetarian dishes that could get outside the sweet and soft ranges," she writes. "It's still a challenge. But the Zen Center kitchen is where I started to meet that challenge."
Aside from her Zen origins, Madison covers her years cooking at the acclaimed “California cuisine” restaurant Chez Panisse and founding her own restaurant Greens, which, as one of the nation’s first farm-to-table restaurants, is still iconic. A leading influence on the vegetarian movement of the '80s and '90s, Madison gives readers an intimate look into the origins of modern plant-based eating, farmer’s markets, and other elements of meat-free foodie culture. Today, she lives in New Mexico with her husband, the artist Patrick McFarlin, and they are no longer vegetarians, having given up the lifestyle after eating Serrano ham in Spain. (Which, TBH, makes a ton of sense if you've ever eaten jamón.)
Aubrey Gordon is the (formerly anonymous) creator of Your Fat Friend, the popular Twitter and Instagram accounts about what it's like navigating modern life as someone who's fat — a word that Gordon's on a mission to reclaim. Her first book, What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat, chronicles the day-to-day discrimination, mistreatment, and microaggressions she's received as a person who weighs 342 pounds. She's been followed and taunted across a parking garage, berated on an airplane for taking up too much space, and has received countless death and rape threats from men on the Internet simply because of her size. As she shares in her book, a woman in the grocery store once took a cantaloupe out of Gordon’s cart at the grocery store and said, “It’s got too much sugar for you, and that’s the last thing you need.”
Gordon's book is a manifesto for body justice, which is to say, a world in which fat people aren't discriminated against for their weight, but instead respected like everyone else. Beyond her own experiences, she explores the politics around why thinness is seen as a virtue and fatness is considered shameful, the myth that fat people aren’t sexually desirable, and the depiction of plus-size people in Hollywood (i.e. existing as a punchline). She also reports on the systems that not only stigmatize fatness, but also make it more difficult for people to lose weight, such as weight loss campaigns that partner with processed-food corporations and the Farm Bill, which rewards farmers who grow "commodity crops" such as wheat, corn, rice, and soybeans — the ingredients in high-calorie, low-nutrient, shelf-stable foods. The Farm Bill is one of the reasons bad-for-you foods are so cheap and accessible. In all, Gordon's book is a fascinating and insightful read into how a body is often much more than just a body.