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Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History

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As a working mother and poet-lecturer, Camille Dungy’s livelihood depended on travel. She crisscrossed America and beyond with her daughter in tow, history shadowing their steps, always intensely aware of how they were perceived, not just as mother and child but as black women. From the San Francisco of settlers’ dreams to the slave-trading ports of Ghana, from snow-white As a working mother and poet-lecturer, Camille Dungy’s livelihood depended on travel. She crisscrossed America and beyond with her daughter in tow, history shadowing their steps, always intensely aware of how they were perceived, not just as mother and child but as black women. From the San Francisco of settlers’ dreams to the slave-trading ports of Ghana, from snow-white Maine to a festive yet threatening bonfire in the Virginia pinewoods, Dungy finds fear and trauma but also mercy, kindness, and community. Penetrating and generous, this is an essential guide for a troubled land.


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As a working mother and poet-lecturer, Camille Dungy’s livelihood depended on travel. She crisscrossed America and beyond with her daughter in tow, history shadowing their steps, always intensely aware of how they were perceived, not just as mother and child but as black women. From the San Francisco of settlers’ dreams to the slave-trading ports of Ghana, from snow-white As a working mother and poet-lecturer, Camille Dungy’s livelihood depended on travel. She crisscrossed America and beyond with her daughter in tow, history shadowing their steps, always intensely aware of how they were perceived, not just as mother and child but as black women. From the San Francisco of settlers’ dreams to the slave-trading ports of Ghana, from snow-white Maine to a festive yet threatening bonfire in the Virginia pinewoods, Dungy finds fear and trauma but also mercy, kindness, and community. Penetrating and generous, this is an essential guide for a troubled land.

30 review for Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Roxane

    With Guidebook to Relative Strangers, Camille Dungy has crafted an elegant, meditative love letter to the life of the writer, the natural world, histories from which we cannot nor should not extricate ourselves, black womanhood, black motherhood, and the unabashed joy of raising up a black girl. From one essay to the next, Dungy maps the ways her world has changed its shape as she has learned to mother her daughter Callie, while also negotiating the writing life she cannot abandon. The writing h With Guidebook to Relative Strangers, Camille Dungy has crafted an elegant, meditative love letter to the life of the writer, the natural world, histories from which we cannot nor should not extricate ourselves, black womanhood, black motherhood, and the unabashed joy of raising up a black girl. From one essay to the next, Dungy maps the ways her world has changed its shape as she has learned to mother her daughter Callie, while also negotiating the writing life she cannot abandon. The writing here is as intimate as it is expansive.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kerry Clare

    This book was magnificent. Familiar, eye-opening, so beautifully written, and rich with wisdom and ideas. Reminded me of Rebecca Solnit, Leslie Jamison, Joan Didion, but also very much itself and incredible for it. READ THIS BOOK.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kathrina

    I like her writing style, but she's very obsessed with mothering her young daughter, and while that is meaningful and useful both for her and some readers, I wanted her to expand outward more. Maybe in her next book? I like her writing style, but she's very obsessed with mothering her young daughter, and while that is meaningful and useful both for her and some readers, I wanted her to expand outward more. Maybe in her next book?

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    I loved this book. As soon as I started reading it, I was enchanted. I forgot I was standing in a bookstore reading a book, and that never happens to me. I love the writing, the genre-bending combination of essay and memoir, and her insightful perspective.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jaime

    This is my first time reading Dungy and it won’t be the last, that’s for sure.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sassafras Lowrey

    Her writing is beautiful - even when she's writing about subjects (like motherhood) that don't interest me. I had the opportunity to hear her read and take a workshop from her this summer. So glad I bought the book! Her writing is beautiful - even when she's writing about subjects (like motherhood) that don't interest me. I had the opportunity to hear her read and take a workshop from her this summer. So glad I bought the book!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Campbell

    Read these gorgeous essays (savor them, as you must, because these essays are written by a poet who notices the minute, who cares deeply about specifics, who yearns to find connection between moments and between times and between people). Then think again about the first words of the title, "guidebook," and realize all the many dark and light corners which Camille Dungy has illuminated for you. Most of those corners exist as much (more?) in yourself as they do in the "relative strangers" Dungy p Read these gorgeous essays (savor them, as you must, because these essays are written by a poet who notices the minute, who cares deeply about specifics, who yearns to find connection between moments and between times and between people). Then think again about the first words of the title, "guidebook," and realize all the many dark and light corners which Camille Dungy has illuminated for you. Most of those corners exist as much (more?) in yourself as they do in the "relative strangers" Dungy presents in these essays. Then read the book again. And again. It's that kind of book. As others have said, this book is timely, eloquent, wise, insightful, sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, always engaging. As I read, I forgot where I was; I sat in a stopped dark car on a Minnesota highway, I stood in an Inupiaq woman's kitchen in Barrow, I crawled on a suddenly arduous trail in the Adirondacks, I crouched in a slave fort's dungeon in Ghana. A bright thread that runs through the book is Dungy's small daughter Callie, but so many other threads run parallel and across that one: Dungy's life as a writer who travels to do readings, her work as a nature writer, her experience growing up in California, her new life as a wife and a mother, her health, her experience as a woman of color, the intersection of her life with the lives that have gone before. Every word is weft woven carefully across this one poet's life so far. This book matters quite a bit. And, as I do with all truly good guidebooks, I plan to keep it close and refer to it often.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Glenda Bailey-Mershon

    Incredible Essays About Nature, History, Race, and Motherhood Camille Dungy is a subtle, confident, thorough writer who blends seemingly disparate ideas into an essay of uncommon depth. In this collection she explores the intersection of race and motherhood and how she is informed in her new role as a mother by history and the natural world. In this way an essay about a hike in unfamiliar woods becomes a reflection on the fear invoked by Southern woods whee lynching occurred, and a meditation on Incredible Essays About Nature, History, Race, and Motherhood Camille Dungy is a subtle, confident, thorough writer who blends seemingly disparate ideas into an essay of uncommon depth. In this collection she explores the intersection of race and motherhood and how she is informed in her new role as a mother by history and the natural world. In this way an essay about a hike in unfamiliar woods becomes a reflection on the fear invoked by Southern woods whee lynching occurred, and a meditation on how being Black makes her hesitant to depend on others to preserve her dignity and sense of self as she is carried by a group after breaking her ankle. The subtle and blatant workings of racism in American history are explored as are the effects of motherhood on selfhood and exploration. A very enviable, straightforward style presents much food for though.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Margie

    I loved this memoir. Camille captures relationships, parenting and racism along with interesting tidbits of history along the way. As Camille entertains us with intimate glimpses traveling as a new mom and closer to home walks in her neighborhood, we encounter new people and see many familiar places from a different view. Callie is fortunate to have a mom who paves her way with insight and courage to make the best of this world. Familiar with Camille's poetry, I find her prose to be equally insp I loved this memoir. Camille captures relationships, parenting and racism along with interesting tidbits of history along the way. As Camille entertains us with intimate glimpses traveling as a new mom and closer to home walks in her neighborhood, we encounter new people and see many familiar places from a different view. Callie is fortunate to have a mom who paves her way with insight and courage to make the best of this world. Familiar with Camille's poetry, I find her prose to be equally inspiring.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Krystal

    What a masterpiece! This collection of reflective stories engage with both the pains and joys of black motherhood, as one navigates challenging academic pursuits. Simply insightful and brilliant!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Beautiful, beautiful book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    amy boese

    love this book so much. elegant thoughtful wordsmithing, beautiful scenery, deeply emotional.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl Klein

    Camille Dungy is the kind of person who visits a new place and wants to know everything about who passed through it before; she imagines the difficult ship passages from centuries before, and gives a story to the name of each lost child. In other words, she is a narrator who feels the world deeply, which can be difficult when traveling as a new mother and often the lone Black person in small white towns. Her encounters are usually of the "friendly" microaggression variety--people feel compelled Camille Dungy is the kind of person who visits a new place and wants to know everything about who passed through it before; she imagines the difficult ship passages from centuries before, and gives a story to the name of each lost child. In other words, she is a narrator who feels the world deeply, which can be difficult when traveling as a new mother and often the lone Black person in small white towns. Her encounters are usually of the "friendly" microaggression variety--people feel compelled to talk at length about how extraordinarily cute her daughter is, and Dungy speculates that they don't have the right words for their curiosity about race. She writes with compassion, clear-eyed criticality, and honest mom-exhaustion. This collection of essays is enjoyably meandering and occasionally intense, like some of the wilderness hikes Dungy describes. I picked it up and put it down a few times, but was always glad to return.

  14. 4 out of 5

    gwayle

    Camille T. Dungy is a gorgeous, sophisticated writer, and these essays are beautifully crafted. So much writing about early motherhood resorts to cliché, but Dungy really plumbs her feelings and experiences, and they make for powerful reading. There is such a wholeness to this collection, which doesn’t isolate motherhood from the rest of life—her career, her sense of place and history, her identity as a Black woman. I love that she is older and experienced (36 when her daughter was born); I love Camille T. Dungy is a gorgeous, sophisticated writer, and these essays are beautifully crafted. So much writing about early motherhood resorts to cliché, but Dungy really plumbs her feelings and experiences, and they make for powerful reading. There is such a wholeness to this collection, which doesn’t isolate motherhood from the rest of life—her career, her sense of place and history, her identity as a Black woman. I love that she is older and experienced (36 when her daughter was born); I love how smart she is, jumping from keen observation to child development psychology to language and meaning to history. What a find! I’d read about this book when it first came out and then was reminded of it in an essay by Angela Garbes about books about motherhood from writers of color.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Matt Miles

    Camille Dungy weaves seamlessly between well-worn themes of beauty in the seemingly mundane elements of nature, history,motherhood and community, as well as traumas old and new and realities of racism in our country. She even unpacks hidden treasures in supposedly well-tread topics like language theory, and like all the other topics in this short but profound book lays it bare without eliminating any of the wonder or mystery behind it. The result is one of the most beautiful and challenging book Camille Dungy weaves seamlessly between well-worn themes of beauty in the seemingly mundane elements of nature, history,motherhood and community, as well as traumas old and new and realities of racism in our country. She even unpacks hidden treasures in supposedly well-tread topics like language theory, and like all the other topics in this short but profound book lays it bare without eliminating any of the wonder or mystery behind it. The result is one of the most beautiful and challenging books I’ve read in a long time.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Beverly

    thoughts coming shortly A wonderful thoughtful read!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ashanté

    I am a fan of Camille Dungy’s poetry, but had no idea how much this collection of essays would make me love her writing even more. Writing about race, gender, and motherhood, the essays are honest. They aren’t searching for neat and easy answers. They’re raw at times. And dexterity as a nature writer adds texture and depth to themes/stories that feel familiar but are presented in a way that also feels new to me.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kate Woodward

    This is a beautiful book in countless ways. It is a treasure. I wish I had read this book before her workshop at Esalen last summer. 💕

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Boldon

    Not many books on writing and mothering. Even fewer by Black women. This book is a treasure, with essays at the intersection of race, gender, mothering, writing, travel, and history.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Violeta

    I picked up Guidebook to Relative Strangers for its writing on motherhood and nature and I’m so glad I did. These gave me a foothold of entry into Ms. Dungy’s resonant and thought-provoking writing on race, history, and community. This is not a light read, but well worthwhile; I will be revisiting it for a long time to come.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Emilie

    I hadn’t heard of this book before Book Riot’s feminist book club Persist started reading it and I decided to once again join in. it was a very good book with interesting historical aspect of various places she visited. Also the intersections of motherhood and race. It was just fascinating and I’m glad I decided to pick it up and join the book club (it’s on their Instagram for those of you who are interested).

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    Dungy is one of the most important writers today exploring the relationship between racial and environmental justice through poetry and essays. I love her work, especially this essay, so I was surprised to not fall in love with this book. Honestly, I think the biggest problem is that I struggled with my daughter's infancy. Between her colic and my sleep deprivation, I felt like I wasn't going to ever be able to return to a functioning self, let alone a creative one. While I recognize that Dungy's Dungy is one of the most important writers today exploring the relationship between racial and environmental justice through poetry and essays. I love her work, especially this essay, so I was surprised to not fall in love with this book. Honestly, I think the biggest problem is that I struggled with my daughter's infancy. Between her colic and my sleep deprivation, I felt like I wasn't going to ever be able to return to a functioning self, let alone a creative one. While I recognize that Dungy's memoir is describing her own experiences and not making a statement on me or other mothering choices, I think I'm too close to those infant years to read rhapsodic accounts of baby love. And I know she was writing about how hard it was to travel with her baby and how potentially crazy it was to spend a year and a half traveling all over the country for poetry readings, dragging her child with her so that her husband could dissertate and she could breastfeed. And yet it smacks of the humblebrag to detail her succcess in that exhausting adventure. I tried to read deeply and interpretively (which is my bread and butter!), but I kept feeling envious and rueful. My child would NEVER have garnered the appreciative attention of other passengers on the plane because of her peaceful flights. And I would have shoved formula at her in a heartbeat rather than cope with that breakneck schedule, workplace pumping, and improvised child care at every destination. I did absolutely nothing when my baby was little, and even that felt exhausting. Dungy's superhuman capacity--while framed with self-deprecating humor and lyrical flights about baby love--bothered me in a way that I realize is entirely personal and neurotic. But it made it hard to read the book, tbh. The essays that were less about motherhood and more about place, I really got into. Her description of her Alaska trip and eating blubber with locals was captivating. My favorite essay is the one where she describes being hauled out of a national park with a broken ankle while she was pregnant. (Sidenote: I seem only to be able to relate to memoirs where the narrator is occasionally helpless and/or constantly self-critical. Is this a bad sign?) Dungy is so attuned to bodies, both the natural world and her own body and their entanglement with racial histories. Oh, and she has an awesome essay about clueless white people at a writers' retreat who want her to be excited about "mainstream" movies that condescend to topics like queerness and race. Her sardonicism is a tonic. Apologies for my own sour grapes about rhapsodic maternity and superwoman professionalism! I just can't.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    Just a few sentences into the "Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History", it becomes clear that Camille Dungy is a skilled poet who crafts prose in a elegant, lyrical, and rhythmic movement that is reminiscent of her award winning poetry. Even though the flow and lyricism of language could transport you away, the depth of the content keeps you firmly rooted on ground and makes you aware of issues of race, gender and class. Thought-provoking, heartbreaking and Just a few sentences into the "Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History", it becomes clear that Camille Dungy is a skilled poet who crafts prose in a elegant, lyrical, and rhythmic movement that is reminiscent of her award winning poetry. Even though the flow and lyricism of language could transport you away, the depth of the content keeps you firmly rooted on ground and makes you aware of issues of race, gender and class. Thought-provoking, heartbreaking and amusing, this collection of essays is engaging and insightful. I felt more informed and educated about the black experience after reading this book. I am thankful for the beauty of Camille's words and the power of her message.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Danny Hesser

    I hear the teacher’s voice, but one guided by her curious and scientific mind, in Camille Dungy’s first book of essays, Guidebook to Relative Strangers: journeys into race, motherhood, and history. A mind for the subtle and not-so-subtle racism at work today, among us but also pervasive in our institutions, might approach that subject with a detached view and a historical breakdown. But as a black poet, meeting with other writers or engaging her wide audience in disparate places, as a mother of I hear the teacher’s voice, but one guided by her curious and scientific mind, in Camille Dungy’s first book of essays, Guidebook to Relative Strangers: journeys into race, motherhood, and history. A mind for the subtle and not-so-subtle racism at work today, among us but also pervasive in our institutions, might approach that subject with a detached view and a historical breakdown. But as a black poet, meeting with other writers or engaging her wide audience in disparate places, as a mother of a precocious child, not unlike Dungy herself, she embeds us with the people she encounters, and that narrative makes her observations at once more personal and worthy of our own explorations. We also get strong historical notes peppered into this story, as she makes a point to visit particular landmarks of our racist society in her sojourns, in places where it was propagated as well as where people took a stand. But often she is unexpectantly thrust into its reality, described aptly in the opening salvo, where seemingly well-educated fellow writers at a retreat display their ignorance. Dungy, as a student and teacher of writing, young in motherhood and brimming with discoveries about infant and then toddler daughter Callie – these are often the best flourishes – as a student of history and racism and nature, brings an ecological inquisitiveness to bear on her subjects. Seemingly disparate things are interconnected through time and space. Black bodies have been commoditized and exploited, just as the natural world continues to be. Segregation itself required more resources, as she notes while in small-town Maine. In visceral and clandestine ways, we have constructed an elaborate society that continues to extract resources unsustainably. Black bodies, Native bodies, all manner of Living bodies, have been usurped, plundered, and re-named, in a way that channels their power to an elite class. Dungy hints at the murky water and undertow beneath the seemingly tranquil current of our progress. In these moments her tentacular mind is on display. I couldn’t help but think of Donna Haraway and her ideation of “making kin.” I like to think that Dungy’s building up a levy of ideas which point to these connections more directly, to be released in this same prosaic form. Or perhaps they have found voice in her poetics, implicitly or explicitly. If there is power in naming, which Dungy suggests, then the recurrent phrases which she employs amplify and collect that power. Repetitions can be lyrical. The multitudes of people sold into slavery at Cape Coast Castle, Ghana, come at us in waves of phrases, syncopated, leading us and preparing us to understand. To say Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin is to echo those young men, so that their names will never dissipate, their deaths never forgotten. There I was reminded of Claudia Rankine, in a piece where the names of young black males who have been killed slowly disappears into the white background. Dungy’s young daughter becomes the focus of the emergent nature of language, as she repeats Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, ebbing and flowing with the nearly correct words. She runs in circles within the castle where so many, already taken from their homes and their families, were enslaved. Callie circumnavigates a room which served as portal through which thousands of men and women were sent to slaver ships; circling and circling, she later explains that this is one of her ways of dealing with fear. She reclaims this strange, oppressive space, Dungy comes to understand, by running about, unfettered, unbound, free.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Bitterbrush Book club selection for Nov. 2019 It did not take me three months to read this book, although it looks like that from the dates, lol. And I want to make this clear because I really enjoyed the book and it could look like I didn't from how long it seemed to take to read it. I just didn't get quite all the way through the book before our book club meeting (I had the last two short stories left to go) and we had the book club kit from the library so I had to turn it back in. Between a pl Bitterbrush Book club selection for Nov. 2019 It did not take me three months to read this book, although it looks like that from the dates, lol. And I want to make this clear because I really enjoyed the book and it could look like I didn't from how long it seemed to take to read it. I just didn't get quite all the way through the book before our book club meeting (I had the last two short stories left to go) and we had the book club kit from the library so I had to turn it back in. Between a planned family vacation - to Orlando, FL to visit the parks - in November and the holiday season, it wasn't until January that I requested the book from the library so that I could finish it. And, as it happens, the last two stories were among my most favorite. How I wish I'd been able to finish it before the discussion. The author has had and continues to have a most interesting life. The author came to our church (Foothills Unitarian) and read from this book and I was fortunate enough to be there. She gave an excellent presentation and I had really wanted to read this collection. It occurs to me now that her book may be in our church library, and if it isn't, I will buy it and put it there for others to read. As always with short story collections, I have most and least favorites. My least favorites would be A Good Hike and Bounds. My most favorites would be Conscientious Outsider, Body of Evidence, Shade North of Ordinary, Differentiation and A Brief History of Near and Actual Losses (which brought me to tears more than once). But I appreciated all of these stories from a perspective different from my own. I am not much of a reader of poetry, but I am going to endeavor to read at least one of her books of poetry. Ms. Dungy is a wonderful writer.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Karen Ashmore

    A couple of years ago I traveled to Ft Collins to hear my longtime friend Edwidge Danticat speak before a large audience who had recently finished a citywide reading of one of her best selling books. Afterwards, I was waiting for my ride and had a conversation with another woman sitting on one of the couches in the lobby. She said her name was Camille Dungy and was also a writer. I friended her on Facebook and was surprised to see she was an award winning poet. When this book of essays came out, A couple of years ago I traveled to Ft Collins to hear my longtime friend Edwidge Danticat speak before a large audience who had recently finished a citywide reading of one of her best selling books. Afterwards, I was waiting for my ride and had a conversation with another woman sitting on one of the couches in the lobby. She said her name was Camille Dungy and was also a writer. I friended her on Facebook and was surprised to see she was an award winning poet. When this book of essays came out, I put it on my Holds list with the Denver library. I finally received it and enjoyed the prose but was at first puzzled by the history lessons interspersed within the stories. The book opened with a racist experience so I expected more racial analysis but read only an occasional recounting with not much in-depth analysis. Much of the book was about her experiences as a traveling Mom and raising her daughter, which many mothers experience. She excelled in her writings about nature - walking thru the woods, being carried down a mountain after breaking her ankle on a hike, exploring Alaska and Ghana. Not surprising, since I discovered she is most renowned for her poetry on nature. Recommend to mothers, nature lovers and those who appreciate good writing.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    "Americans often don't care much about the things that concern people who aren't like them." "A person who isn't reminded several times a day about the implications of the color of her skin has time to consider the implications of other things." "One of the easiest ways to strip a person of her power is to take away her right to choose her name." "Such an enactment of estrangement, to live in a country where the vote of 90 percent of your community has no practical effect." "Formula companies buy b "Americans often don't care much about the things that concern people who aren't like them." "A person who isn't reminded several times a day about the implications of the color of her skin has time to consider the implications of other things." "One of the easiest ways to strip a person of her power is to take away her right to choose her name." "Such an enactment of estrangement, to live in a country where the vote of 90 percent of your community has no practical effect." "Formula companies buy birth records from hospitals or the county, and they use these to identify the addresses of new parents. When samples started arriving, I wondered what it must be like to suffer a stillbirth or a sudden infant death and receive formula, unbidden, in the mail. For such parents, the engine of capitalism must propel an unyielding grief." "When I write about nature, I am writing about loss." "Perhaps home is memory." "Try as I might to lose myself to something larger, I'm always reminded of the boundaries of the body; we are bound by gender; we are bound by appearance; we are bound by race. These are ways human history cross-pollinates all my interactions."

  28. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    I appreciated the way Camille Dungy's Guidebook to Relative Strangers anecdotally covered an array of topics, but this element at times felt like the book's downfall: as a whole it oftentimes felt a bit directionless and downright random. Although she attempted for the thread of continuity throughout to be her role as a mother (both leading up to the birth of her daughter and then upon her daughter's arrival), in certain sections this seemed to be added in as a mere afterthought in attempt to ti I appreciated the way Camille Dungy's Guidebook to Relative Strangers anecdotally covered an array of topics, but this element at times felt like the book's downfall: as a whole it oftentimes felt a bit directionless and downright random. Although she attempted for the thread of continuity throughout to be her role as a mother (both leading up to the birth of her daughter and then upon her daughter's arrival), in certain sections this seemed to be added in as a mere afterthought in attempt to tie disparate reflections together. The focus on her daughter and motherhood is even highlighted in the opening lines of the book's own front flap summary: "As a working mother whose livelihood as a poet-lecturer depended on travel, Camille T. Dungy crisscrossed America with her daughter, intensely aware of how they are seen, not just as a mother and child, but as black women." I found this description to be wildly misleading, given that the majority of the book's chapters are, in fact, not focused on Dungy's actual travels with her daughter from place-to-place as the description would have the reader believe. While her daughter is frequently featured and mentioned, to say that their travels serve as the crux of the book's content is simply untrue. Aside from this frustrating ambiguity, from a reader's perspective it felt like Dungy focused on certain stories for slightly too long, which I particularly felt in the "A Good Hike" and "Differentiation" chapters. The inclusion of them felt like an unnecessarily long-winded attempt to derive meaning from otherwise quotidian experiences that tied very little into the collection's overarching themes. While I valued and could deeply relate to a number of Dungy's reflections in the book, I feel that the content would have been better served if A Guidebook to Relative Strangers was simply presented as a book of essays, instead of as a collection erroneously tied together by a common thread. In the end, this skewed portrayal was a fatal flaw that took away from my overall enjoyment of the stories and reflections Dungy presented. Lines and passages of note: "When you belong, you can overlook the totality of otherness, the way that being other pervades every aspect of a person's life...I was thinking about how race directs the course of all my actions. My taste in films, who I befriend, the things I choose to write about, all are influenced by the particular position (or number of positions) I occupy in American culture. My otherness manifests itself in what I eat, what I watch, what I read, what lipstick I can wear, where I can walk unmolested." (p. 8) "When I first got back from Ghana, I was ready to turn around and go right back. I had left a sense of comfort and freedom there that surpassed any happiness I'd known before. There is something undeniably relaxing about being phenotypically one of many (or most) rather than one of few (if any). Perhaps it would be a more stable world if everyone could experience both the sensation of oneness and that of otherness a few times in life. A person who isn't reminded several times a day about the implications of the color of her skin has time to consider the implications of other things. Having lived a life where my outsider status is called to my attention on a regular basis, it was a noted pleasure to blend into the crowd." (p. 10) "The artists' colony is constructed to serve a similar goal: to provide a space in which the creative mind can roam unfettered...At breakfast one morning, several of the guests waxed delighted about how their rooms were cleaned regularly, "as if by fairies." We were living in a mansion. So as to allow us time to create, our meals were cooked for us, our bathrooms scrubbed. We were invited, for the duration of our stay, to behave as if the mansion and its amenities were our own. There is something about privilege that can place one in a position to erase the realities of others. Those weren't fairies pushing the vacuum cleaner and cleaning my tub. They were women with lives and flesh and families and histories. My life and flesh and family and history demand that I recognize them where and how i can." (p. 11) "I found myself in Iowa and believed for a long time that I had lost my home. The language of place is a slow speech to learn. Iowa is blue uninterrupted, blue talking all day and a darker blue still talking through the night. Just the waist-high tips of new corn there to listen, and they not saying anything, only nodding their young heads. A new language. I moved to Iowa and didn't write for months. When a poem finally came, it was written in a different tongue." (p. 132) "...I have traveled enough and moved enough to know that home is not a place. I am thinking perhaps home is not language, either. Language is too easy to lose. Perhaps home is memory." (p. 133) "...I didn't want to be a burden on the men who helped haul me down the hill. More important, I didn't want to appear helpless. I could play the damsel in distress by letting them be gentlemen who lent me their handkerchiefs and opened my car doors, but I weighed as much or more than most of them, and I was used to taking care of myself. The version of gender roles that rests on a woman's daintiness and readiness to be rescued broke down with me. I think of Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" speech, delivered over a hundred and fifty years ago and still reminding us that the image of women as meek and dainty was a picture of white women. Black women, to borrow Zora Neale Hurston's early twentieth century phrase, have long been treated as the mules of the world." (p. 186) "Try as I might to lose myself to something larger, I'm always reminded of the boundaries of the body: we are bound by gender; we are bound by appearance; we are bound by race. There are ways human history cross-pollinates all my interactions." (p. 193)

  29. 5 out of 5

    Betty F

    Appreciate book club oh so much, even virtually we are able to really share how the book impacted us and having Camille there tonight was even more special. To be able to ask about her writing and I really appreciated the way she used language and how her daughter influenced her as a writer and how in these essays with what she shares about her experiences as a Black woman in this world, you are able to understand. The feeling of otherness and how for her as she shared she always feels like the Appreciate book club oh so much, even virtually we are able to really share how the book impacted us and having Camille there tonight was even more special. To be able to ask about her writing and I really appreciated the way she used language and how her daughter influenced her as a writer and how in these essays with what she shares about her experiences as a Black woman in this world, you are able to understand. The feeling of otherness and how for her as she shared she always feels like the other and how during our convo tonight folks got deep about that and it's just appreciated because these conversations are not had enough. About how the title of this book states we can be strangers even if we're relatives or more kin with those folks who aren't blood related, so just the journey that life takes you on and gosh I'm excited to ready her poetry because the way Camille writes was just my favorite.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Anjie

    A moving, beautifully written collection of essays from a mom/poet/educator/traveler to her young daughter. I'm grateful she shared her insights with us. Every story is part social commentary, part history lesson, part musing on parenting, some real-world tips for traveling with toddlers, a nature appreciation... so much more interesting and enriching than I can convey. We go from California, Colorado and Maine, to Alaska, Virginia and Ghana. And I have a much greater appreciation of the sacrifi A moving, beautifully written collection of essays from a mom/poet/educator/traveler to her young daughter. I'm grateful she shared her insights with us. Every story is part social commentary, part history lesson, part musing on parenting, some real-world tips for traveling with toddlers, a nature appreciation... so much more interesting and enriching than I can convey. We go from California, Colorado and Maine, to Alaska, Virginia and Ghana. And I have a much greater appreciation of the sacrifices writers and professors face as they try to bring their art and knowledge to a broader audience. I learned about this book on a Book Riot podcast and the Professional Book Nerds podcast. Otherwise this one would have flown under my radar and that would have been my loss.

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