the smell of my desperation has become a stench

My favorite book of 2015

That’s right. I am just now getting around to taking inventory of 2015 and all that it meant for me and my girls and our lives going forward. Everyone else did it when you’re supposed to do it, before the year ended. But this is my website and I’ll cry if I fucking want to. Although it will never look as convincing or evoke anything like the gut punch of this:

I spent that last week of the year on a beach in Mexico, yes I did. I drank tequila at noon, ate a grotesque amount of fried tortilla chips with every meal, and read six books. Yep, that’s one, two, three… six. All the way to six. I don’t have any free time to read books in my natural habitat, the one where six-year-olds routinely swing from trees, so the idea of getting to sit on my skinny white butt and devour all those words seemed more indulgent to me than what it cost to travel to Mexico and stay in a room by the beach for a week.

A photo posted by Heather B. Armstrong (@dooce) on

Now that I am back shuttling two kids to and from school/gymnastics/doctor appointments/piano while attempting to bring home the metaphorical bacon, I am experiencing more withdrawal from the books than I am the warm weather, and y’all know how much I love warm weather, I will not bore you with yet another lament about how cruddy Utah’s winters can be. Oh, wait. Except I will. Because people who live in condos with covered parking keep openly complaining that it’s not snowing enough. SHUT YOUR FACES. Seriously, shut them up. And don’t open them again until you have to shovel 18 inches of snow out of your driveway and then get ticketed by the city because you missed a square inch on the sidewalk. Bitter snow shoveler, Heather is. Changing my bio EVERYWHERE to reflect this quality of mine.

Normally I read books on a Kindle (this one specifically, it’s great if you’re reading outside) because it keeps track of everything I highlight in one tidy little place. I only very recently found out that some people don’t highlight passages in books and upon hearing this information I may have let out an involuntary sound that made a whole family pick up their beach gear and move to another hotel. How ever will you go back and find that line in Tina Fey’s Bossypants where she refers to blondes as “Yellowhairs” and calls them out for squatting in a class called “Gary’s Glutes Camp in an attempt to reverse-engineer a butt.” You non-highlighters make no sense at all. You might even be a scourge.

Fine. Whatever. I’m an English major who was taught to read books this way. Err on the side of highlighting too much, one professor preached. Which may have happened when I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.


Yeah, I just flipped through it now and I highlighted the whole goddamn thing. Again, I would have normally read this on a Kindle, but I picked it up at a local bookstore when I took the girls there to reward them for, hm, I don’t remember what for. Probably for touching a piece of food possessing texture or hue. Or for going an entire day without taking off their socks and leaving them in the most random places LIKE ON MY DESK NEXT TO MY MOUSE WHO THE HELL IS RAISING YOU. So gross. I do not want the sweaty and possibly fungus-infested cotton coating of your feet on a surface that is at an altitude any higher than your feet.

This is by far the most important book of the year and easily at the top of my list. It’s only 152 pages long, written to his son, a love letter of sorts if love letters can be a scathing indictment on an entire culture and its history of violence and genocide:

Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered. I think we would like to kill you ourselves before seeing you killed by the streets that America made. That is a philosophy of the disembodied, of a people who control nothing, who can protect nothing, who are made to fear not just the criminals among them but the police who lord over them with all the moral authority of a protection racket.

I’d go back an read almost every passage two or three times in an attempt to honor the significance of what Coates lays out so plainly, so expertly, as if he is a surgeon who treats his science as art. I made myself ration the whole thing, reading only 20 pages at most at a time so that I would have something to look forward to the next night in bed when normally I would have been working. Except that I guess reading this is work, a kind of work that needs to be done, that has to be done in an attempt to further acknowledge that the horrors committed against black people, horrors that have built a system in which I can blithely sit where I sit and make jokes on a blog about my kids and their socks, where I get to complain about snow in my fucking driveway, means that I have to turn away “from the brightly rendered version of [my] country as it has always declared itself and [turn] toward something murkier and unknown.”

Within a year I think Leta will possess the maturity to read this. In fact, she may be ready for this now. It will be an essential component of the continuing conversations we have about who she is, what she has been born into, the dangerous power of that birthright, and how she must never take for granted the fact that she can walk and run and play and act a fool with the blessing and protection that is not afforded to an entire race of people. As Coates warns his son:

You have been cast into a race in which the wind is always at your face and the hounds are always at your heels. And to varying degrees this is true of all life. The difference is that you do not have the privilege of living in ignorance of this essential fact.

Buy it, borrow it, check it out of the library. I will loan you my copy. This should be required reading for anyone who has ever been told and believed the lie of American history.

  • Kristen Hirsch

    2016/01/06 at 1:32 pm

    Heather, I too read this fantastic book over the holidays. First I checked it out from the library and then I bought it for the reasons you state above. I really appreciate your willingness to discuss this topic with your readers and your girls. I also own White Like Me and am currently reading The Warmth of Other Suns thanks to you. You are making a difference in my life and I am grateful to you!

  • Marie McDowell

    2016/01/06 at 1:47 pm

    Just ordered it from Amazon. Thank you Heather.

  • cattail722

    2016/01/06 at 2:27 pm

    I read this book over Thanksgiving break, and then began to read his first book, as well, after my eyes were opened in ways I never imagined. I too, rarely have time to read unless I’m on vacation. I must say, it made me feel embarrassed to be an American and to have participated, though unwittingly, in the lies we have told ourselves to make ourselves feel better about our privilege. My eyes have been opened and I will never be the same or feel the same about this country and its foundations. There is so much more to read and learn and DO. Thanks for sharing this with your readers. I too think it should be required reading.

  • L - Mama(e) in Translation

    2016/01/06 at 2:45 pm

    Buying it RIGHT NOW, thank you! I will have my son read it too, I’m sure he’s old enough (will be 14 in March).

  • L - Mama(e) in Translation

    2016/01/06 at 3:36 pm

    I’m sure my book will be covered with tear stains too. I just ordered and then started reading what Amazon made available and promptly started crying. I agree with you. It should be required reading for all Americans, together with viewing Twelve Years a Slave.

  • Maree

    2016/01/06 at 4:00 pm

    As a black woman (who is also an immigrant), someone who is nervous every time she hears sirens or sees those red & blue lights in the rear view mirror, who is less afraid of the potential mugger/rapist/murderer than the police who are supposed to protect and serve I just want to thank you for acknowledging the disparity in experiences for a black in america vs. a white in america.

  • adriana

    2016/01/06 at 4:20 pm

    Somewhat unrelated but related – have you listened to This American Life’s Status Update episode? Ta-Nehisi Coates long-time friend and TAL producer Neil Drumming talk about their friendship in relation to Coates accolades and rise to fame. Neat piece!

  • Karen

    2016/01/06 at 10:59 pm

    I am heartened by the fact that people who are not ‘of color’ or as others would say: White, are raising their consciousness. I’m thrilled even. I’m simply curious, as to how this has come about. I suppose it is recent the mishandling of justice and killings by police officers in the news. I don’t think I’m unusual in any way, but I’ve known since I was a kid that things were harder for people of color. Not only is there racism and injustice but there is a large economic gap; this I knew intuitively. Please let us evolve into a more equal world.

  • FunMumX3

    2016/01/07 at 6:17 am

    Just reserved at the library… thanks!

  • Cynthia

    2016/01/07 at 9:06 am

    Been meaning to pick it up, and you just pushed me over the edge. Purchased.

  • tiffyhdp

    2016/01/07 at 9:10 am

    The first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem, right? Our country has a problem, that way too many people are just completely blind to. Not because they are bad people, but because, like you, it just never came up in their lives. I’ve read your blog for a few years now, but I’ve never commented until now. This is a topic close to my heart, and I’m so glad these conversations are happening. I remember vividly the day I became aware of my skin color. I am ‘white’, grew up on the ‘good’ side of town. But a mile down the road marked the ‘bad’ side of town, where my mom caught the bus into the city; where I walked to my after-school job; and where I attended football games with my cousins, who went to the ‘bad’ high school. I was 14, my cousin had invited me to a game at his school, and I dropped my brand new cellphone (a rare possession for a relatively poor kid to own back in 2003) between the bleachers. So we went around behind the stadium, and peered through the hole in the fence where one of us would need to climb to get to the phone, laying in the mud about 10 feet away. My cousin, ever the gentleman, offered to get it so I didn’t have to get dirty. As he crawled back through, a cop caught us. He grabbed my cousin by his coat collar, pushed him up against the fence, and asked why we were trespassing. He was screaming and I was terrified. I’d never had a cop yell at me before. Before we could explain, he saw the cellphone, accused us of stealing it, and told us he was going to take us to the station. I stammered over and over that it was my phone. He didn’t believe me. Thank god a friend suggested to call the “Dad” phone number to prove that it was mine. After some negotiations, my Dad had to come pick us all up and take us home. That was when I realized the differences. If we had been at my school, with my white friends, we could have expected a gentle warning about trespassing. Now, I’m not trying to vilify the police officer. I knew him as a kind, friendly member of my community, who was probably just trying to ‘do the job’. But the truth was, I had always lived a life innocent until proven guilty. My cousin lived a life guilty until proven innocent. He died 2 years later, a victim of gun violence in his neighborhood, which wasn’t even important enough to be mentioned in the local newspaper. I’m sorry for the long comment, but it’s so important for these stories to be told. There are so many underlying layers to the problem, and it will take a lot of work to try to fix. But we all need to try. We need to admit that there IS a problem.

  • tiffyhdp

    2016/01/07 at 9:17 am

    Sorry, I guess I should make it clear that in my story, my cousin was black. I come from a pretty diverse family. Sorry I left that part out.

  • Sheri Watts Hart

    2016/01/07 at 1:40 pm

    To the person who asked why white people are taking notice now….Only speaking for myself, but as someone who doesn’t experience racism and maybe would have believed that we were all moving forward, I was shocked and continue to be so at how people seemed to have LOST THEIR MINDS since Obama was elected. Yes, there have always been political divides, but I cannot believe the chasm that has opened. As I talk to people trying to find where their point of view is coming from or why they seemed to suddenly care so much more about hating the democrats….it has become all too clear that race is the motivator. It shocked me that this kind of vile hatred became so open and obvious and yet people can say it’s “just politics”. smh

  • Carolyn Coulter

    2016/01/07 at 2:38 pm

    Thank you Heather, for this and everything you write. Every word.

  • Smeebe

    2016/01/07 at 7:11 pm

    I wish I enjoyed reading enough to read that many books! But, maybe this book would keep my attention. Who knows. Does it have pictures?! Ha! ………….kidding, sorry. Glad you had a good vacation and thanks for the post. I hope to have my blog help and entertain any many people as yours does Heather. Can’t wait to read the next.

  • Michelle Deininger

    2016/01/08 at 7:48 am

    Oh lordy am I late to the party…this might be first time I have read a post of yours. Maybe not. I’m forgetful AND late to party. But anyway, this was delightful and now I will need to build into my schedule time to read all of your posts. That’s fine; I can do it. (I can do anything in January!) Coates’s book is sitting in physical form on my wooden to-read shelf; will move it on up. Your endorsement/exhortation is much appreciated.

  • Michael Mathews

    2016/01/09 at 12:23 am

    Your comment made my eyes water. There are so many stories like this. I have the Ta-Nehisi Coates book next to me. I had intended to read it but hadn’t gotten around to it. Heather’s post caused me to dig it up and start it.

  • Michael Mathews

    2016/01/09 at 12:27 am

    Speaking just for myself, I used to have the incorrect opinion that race relations had improved. I worked in offices that had people of all colors and genders and we all got along fine, so what was the race problem?

    Events the past several years have opened my eyes and caused me to read more. I’ve talked to people about what they’ve gone through. I’ve come to understand that having white skin and being a male does bring me a lot of privilege. What I don’t know is how to improve things.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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