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The Sisterhood of the Traveling Books

Updated: Apr 3


In late April, 2021, I had an extra copy of some books. #BooksHappen. It is the happiest of accidents, really, and while I might typically gift the spare copy to a friend, an idea had been on my mind for a while...


The power of a book; how a book can change you, shape you. And the extra copies I had were two such books, Bettina Love's We Want to Do More than Survive and Layla Saad's me + white supremacy.

And so I gifted the books like I typically would. But on the inside cover, I inscribed, "Sisterhood of the Traveling Book", and asked a little something of the reader. It has been a minute since I sent the books out into the world, but I wrote something along the lines of, "After you've read this Traveling Book, please add a comment and share the book with a friend! You are welcome to write a brief note here in the book as space allows and/or visit angelamnovak.com/sisterhood to add comments to the forum, joining an online dialogue."


My goal was (and is) to move beyond reading the book, but to engage with others in community and collaboration, to think about how we can move beyond conversation into action. Not just a book club, #BookClubsWithActionSteps. By hosting this forum, I hoped to provide guidance from my positionality as a researcher/trainer: How can I support you? While knowing at the same time that in true community, it is a shared system of support: How can this community of readers learn from and support one another in this work?


This endeavor started with my shipping off a few books to one friend, who in turn should have read them and passed them on to new friends immediately... by May 15, right? Don't we all open mail immediately and read books within the first two weeks?



Just cats, huh?


Since I'm also updating my website for the first time since, ohhhh, 2022, I'm trying again! I'm also planning on sending out a few additional books, but please chime in if you have read the book, you don't need to have a special inscribed copy, lol. Any and all are welcome to join the conversation!


Here's my thought process about the sisterhood. I think- it's a work in progress, y'all. I've created a forum for each title I've sent out. The idea is to post in the forum- thoughts, ideas, questions, plans. At first, it may be slow going, because there will be fewer people with whom to interact, but remember, anyone who is reading (or has read) the book, not just those with a traveling book copy, please join in joyful community to:

  • discuss the book

  • more than discuss... consider action steps.

  • What's next? What's your plan?

  • What do you need help with? Ideas? Materials?

  • How can you enact change in your sphere of influence?

  • If you aren't sure where to start, the community is here to help.

  • If you have tons of ideas, we're here to help you narrow down what's first!


A quick note on sisterhood and identity: this is an inclusive group. I recognize that the term sisterhood may seem unwelcoming to gender neutral, genderqueer, non-binary, male, pan, trans, two-spirit, and all, none, or a combination of these gender identities. For some, sisterhood may feel like appropriation. This is not my intention, but the name was purposefully chosen. You might have guessed that the name came from the novel turned movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Yep. The story is focused on female characters, but there are male characters as well (though to be honest, I don't think they'd pass a Bechdel test).

The themes in Sisterhood are complex, and include grief, mental health, body image, death and dying, family structures, and identity. In 2015, Lions, Tigers, and Queers, Oh My gave the film 4/5 (check out the review here), discussing the queer topics featured in the film. Lindsay, the blog author, referenced Dr. Alexander Doty, queer film theorist, in distinguishing queer topics from LGBTQ, stating: "Queer is a much bigger umbrella term for anyone/thing/etc that is outside the pervasive norm (white, male, straight, privileged, educated, english-speaking, and able)."

So while, yes, I love puns, alliteration, (onomatopoeia-whoa!) and all forms of plays on words, that alone would not have swayed my choice given my other reservations. There was a deeper meaning in using Sisterhood of the Traveling Books.



    Left Image Source                                                           Above Image Source


After the 2016 election, signs like the above and thoughts along the same lines were not uncommon. I worked in Washington DC public schools at the time. My job was in the central office but I spent time in schools and that's where I was in the days after the election; in a school with a substantial Latine community. The fear was palpable. In all my years in elementary and middle schools, I'd never experienced students having such a visceral reaction to a presidential election, their uncertainty about their families, about their future, was real.


After the election, statistics from 52-55% were bandied about, in terms of the support of white women for Trump, however this data was based on exit polls. These numbers likely informed the signs carried at rallies like in the above right photograph, and the overall pervasive feeling of "white women voted in Trump" and/or "white women lost Hillary the election". Exit polls are typically flawed by their very nature; the graphic (above left) is from the Pew Research Center (note this is not an analysis of votes, it is survey data, however it was conducted with validated voters with a theoretically representative sample). After this report was released in 2018, there was movement (e.g., Time, New York Magazine) along the lines of see, white women weren't so bad after all.

In my June 2020 blog post, I talked about accountability. I like the above graphic, particularly in thinking about intention versus perception (with kiddos and adults). In anti-racism and equity work it goes beyond accountability in words, but in action steps. Whether the percentage point was 55, 52, or 47, my intentionality behind the naming of Sisterhood of the Traveling Books was "white women, we got some work to do," from this sociopolitical perspective and from the viewpoint of: who are our teachers? According to NCES, 79% of public school teachers are white women (2017-2018 data). All are welcome, but the naming was purposeful: educators, let's go.


Yours in grace, justice, and joy,

(and book clubs with action steps),

Angela

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