ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Tuesday

23

May 2017

0

COMMENTS

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: Anyone looking for a profile of an interesting man doing something unthinkable to most of us.

In a nutshell: Man lives alone in the woods for nearly three decades, uttering words to only one person. Gets arrested.

Line that sticks with me: “He parked the car and put the keys on the center console. He had a tent and a backpack but no compass, no map. Without knowing where he was going, with no particular place in mind, he stepped into the trees and walked away.” (p 77)

Why I chose it: NPR.

Review: Christopher Knight was 20 years old when he abandoned his car and walked deep into a forest in Maine. He was 57 when arrested for breaking into a camp to steal food. This is the story of the 27 years in between, a bit of what came first, and more of what came next.

Author Michael Finkel has written a book before; you might recognize his name from his being fired for essentially making up a story (he says he combined a bunch of people to make a composite without saying so). I was not familiar with that background, but even knowing that, I believe what he is sharing in this profile of Christopher Knight, aka the Hermit. Over 27 years, Mr. Knight lived just a few minutes from other people, but was so fully hidden and so committed to being alone that the only person who saw him for nearly 25 years was a hiker he accidentally crossed paths with.

This story is fascinating to me. On the one hand, this man desperately wanted to be alone, to be away from everyone else, ideally for the rest of his life. But he didn’t choose the strict survivalist route: he stole. And although he followed a strict code when stealing from others, never taking anything that appeared valuable, always going into what he thought were empty houses, for nearly three decades some families were terrified that this burglar would come into their home (and he often did repeatedly) when they were there.

Mr. Finkel does a great job telling this story, about a person it can be difficult to understand. He also provides some background and context to the idea of a hermit – people who leave all of society for years at a time, if not longer. He also provides room for all of us to contemplate what happens when someone like Mr. Knight is forced back into society. Is there space in this world for someone who wants to be all alone, forever? Should there be?

Sunday

21

May 2017

0

COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – May 21, 2017

Written by , Posted in Feminism, Politics, What I'm Reading

Fight Back

“An honest examination of your beliefs is a lot like cleaning house (I’m using creative imagination here because I never clean my house). You have a lot of stuff in your house and it can all seem like very necessary stuff. But if you buy every item that catches your eye and take it home with you, it will pile up, block your doorway, and cut you off from the rest of the world. But if you regularly hold each item up to the light and ask, “why do I really have this? Is it helping me? Is this meeting my needs? Did this ever meet my needs?” You Must Understand Why You Believe What You Believe — And How You Got There (by Ijeoma Oluo for The Establishment)

Horrific Executive Action and Legislation

“DeVos’ selection of these individuals, along with existing staff at the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), confirms what many suspected: that DeVos will push hard for school privatization from the beginning of her term as education secretary. This, in turn, could endanger the general success of the country’s K-12 education while creating even larger barriers to fair treatment in school for already marginalized populations.” Betsy DeVos’ Choice of New Hires Suggests She’ll Keep Her School Privatization Promises (by Alex Kotch for Rewire)

Media

“Many of Fallon’s famous friends show up to explain that Fallon just isn’t an edgy, political guy. He wants to provide silly humor for as wide an audience as possible. What we are meant to understand is that Jimmy Fallon just doesn’t pick sides, okay? No. That’s not okay. It wasn’t okay when Fallon ruffled Trump’s hair before the election, and it sure as shit isn’t okay now that Trump is president.” Sorry, Jimmy Fallon. We All Have to Pick Sides Now. (by Melissa McEwan for Shakesville)

““I used to say that I kicked down the door, but no one else came in,” Gayle Sierens told Richard Sandomir of the New York Times in 2009. “But I think that day is nearing. I really do.”
Mowins joined ESPN in 1994, and has since worked as a play-by-play announcer for NCAA Championships in basketball, softball, soccer, and volleyball, and according to ESPN Media Zone, has been the voice of the Women’s College World Series for over 20 years.” For the first time in NFL history, a woman will call play-by-play on national television (by Lindsay Gibbs for Think Progress)

Racism

“Across the South, communities began taking a critical look at many other symbols honoring the Confederacy and its icons — statues and monuments; city seals; the names of streets, parks and schools; and even official state holidays. There have been more than 100 attempts at the state and local levels to remove the symbols or add features to provide more historical context.” Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy (Southern Poverty Law Center)

Transphobia

“The possibilities, should I fly round trip from the United States to the Philippines and back again, are these: everything goes fine, but I am justifiably terrified of being publicly assaulted and degraded; I am, in fact, publicly assaulted and degraded; either of the above, plus I’m racially profiled. Traveling through a post-9/11 world while ambiguously brown has always meant a curious sort of luck when it comes to winning the random selection-and-arbitrary-detention lottery.” The ‘Trans Tax’: A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Leaving My House (by Nacasio Andres Reed for Rewire)

Misogyny

“Ironically, the Global Gag Rule isn’t associated with lower abortion rates. In some areas, it has been shown to actually increase the number of abortions, especially the number of unsafe abortions. After President George W. Bush reinstated the Gag, the U.S. cut off aid to organizations it said violated the policy in 20 developing countries, limiting women’s access not only to family planning but also to HIV prevention and treatment, maternal and child health services, and even malaria prevention and treatment.” Let’s Not Forget This Trump Policy Will Kill Women Around the World (by Lauren Rankin for Allure)

Tuesday

16

May 2017

0

COMMENTS

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for: Anyone looking for a riveting read.

In a nutshell: 16-year-old Starr Carter is in the car when her friend is killed by a police officer.

Line that sticks with me: “Claim folks need to act peaceful, but rolling through here like we in a goddamn war.” (pg 211)

Why I chose it: I’ve been hearing loads of people talk about it.

Review: Holy shit. 444 pages. Started yesterday morning on the walk to work, finished it this morning on the walk to work. I wanted to read it everywhere, and was mildly annoyed that my job got in the way.

This young adult book masterfully covers about a million different topics, and covers them well. What’s it like to be one of the only Black students in a private white high school? What is it like to have rival gangs in your neighborhood? What is it like to have to navigate who you are depending on the company you are around? What is it like for a Black teen to date a white teen? How do you handle it when you see your friend shot and killed in front of you? Do protests work? What purpose do they serve, especially when they can damage those who are already so hurt?

There’s so much to discover in this book, and so many layers. Starr is a well-developed heroine, but so are all of the supporting characters. From her two brothers, to her friends at school to her friends in her neighborhood, her uncle who is also a cop. Everyone has depth and serves their own purpose, not just Starr’s.

I think I was most impressed with two parts: the evolution of Starr’s relationships with her school and neighborhood friends, and the handling of Starr’s sharing the story of that night. I don’t want to give too much away, but Ms. Thomas does a fantastic job of illustrating why people might act in a way that we think we wouldn’t unless faced with that situation.

I loved this book. Loved it.

Sunday

14

May 2017

0

COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – May 14, 2017

Written by , Posted in What I'm Reading

Fight Back

““I’m so offended by this president that I think it requires me to speak truth to power, to say it like it is and to be as honest as I possibly can about what I think about him being the president of this country,” Waters told me. She believes Trump “colluded with the Russians, with the Kremlin … to undermine our election system and thus undermine our democracy.”” Maxine Waters: Jeff Sessions believes ‘it’s his job to keep minorities in their place’ (by Jonathan Capehart for Washington Post)

“Congress is on recess this week, but most House Republicans aren’t holding open town hall meetings in their districts. Seeing an opportunity to make hay over the unpopular bill, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from New York’s neighboring 18th District, paid a visit to Faso’s home territory Monday evening for an event organized by Maloney’s re-election campaign and local progressive groups.” A GOP Congressman Wouldn’t Meet With Constituents, So A Democrat Came Instead (by Jeffrey Young for Huffington Post)

Horrific Executive Action and Legislation

“The session finally resumed around 3 a.m., and Republican Sen. Brent Jackson introduced a new budget amendment that he explained would fund more pilot programs combating the opioid epidemic. He cited “a great deal of discussion” about the need for more opioid treatment funding. Jackson didn’t mention where the additional $1 million would come from: directly from education programs in Senate Democrats’ districts and other initiatives the minority party sought.” At 3 a.m., NC Senate GOP strips education funding from Democrats’ districts (by Colin Campbell for The News and Observer)

“So does Ramona Africa. She was actually inside the targeted house at 6221 Osage as it was battered by police bullets and deluge guns and, eventually, brought down by a makeshift bomb dropped from a police helicopter. She managed to escape the burning building. Her fellow members of MOVE, the radical organization to which she belonged that was standing off against the City of Philadelphia, were not as lucky.” I’m From Philly. 30 Years Later, I’m Still Trying To Make Sense Of The MOVE Bombing (by Gene Demby for NPR)

“Billy Koehler eventually got a job delivering pizzas, but the position didn’t offer health insurance. When his implanted defibrillator’s battery ran low, Koehler couldn’t afford the thousands of dollars a replacement would cost. He died on his way home from work in March 2009. “He drove two blocks, came to a stop sign, put his car in park, and slumped into his steering wheel,” Georgeanne Koehler testified.” Yes, People Die When They Don’t Have Access To Health Care (by Arthur Delaney for Huffington Post)

Racism

“Public figures have condemned the gathering, which some, including the city’s Mayor, say echoes the practices of the Ku Klux Klan. ‘[The event] was either profoundly ignorant or was designed to instill fear in our minority populations in a way that hearkens back to the days of the KKK,’ Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer said.” White Supremacist Richard Spencer leads a KKK-style mob of torch-wielding protesters chanting ‘you will not replace us’ in fight to keep a statue of Robert E. Lee in Virginia park (by Timonthyna Duncan for The Daily Mail)

Xenophobia

“A man was caught on video delivering a long anti-Muslim tirade against a family vacationing last week on a Texas beach, repeatedly screaming at them about sharia law, ISIS, and Donald Trump. Fourteen members of the family were on weeklong reunion in South Padre Island when the man, who was identified in a police report obtained by BuzzFeed News as Alexander Downing, of Waterford, Connecticut, approached them.” This Guy Yelled “You’re A Fucking Muslim” And “Donald Trump Will Stop You” At A Family (by Talal Ansari for Buzzfeed)

Accessibility

““I simply began to cry,” Webster told BuzzFeed News. “I am a thick-skinned person, but after a very stressful week this was another reminder that society continues to make my life frustrating and difficult as punishment for a faulty body. “No one should be made to feel that their body makes them unworthy of the treatment afforded to everyone else. I was also just unspeakably angry.”” A Disabled Woman Was Trapped On The Tube Despite Being At An “Accessible” Station (by Rose Troup Buchanan for Buzzfeed)

The Only Review of Ivanka’s Book You Need to Read

“The worst thing is that this is not just a dross self-help book. Anyone can write a dross self-help book. Anyone could write this dross self-help book simply by searching the #wellness tag on Instagram and copy-pasting until they hit sixty-thousand words. The stores are full of such things, but few of them are actively fascist, unless you have a particularly rigorous attitude to the cult of self-help as a means of diverting the anxiety of the atomized individual from social change. No, this is a whole different class of charlatanery—a manifesto for aspirational capitalist self-actualization with the gall to call itself empowering, a prosperity gospel for post-Trump patriarchy chewed up and regurgitated as a set of smirking pull-quotes and suggested hashtags, like a sort of despotic Barney the Dinosaur, except with a duller colour scheme, all slimy socialite salmon and sterile beige.” Our Lady of Complicity (by Laurie Penny for The Baffler)

Monday

8

May 2017

0

COMMENTS

Eggshells by Caitriona Lally

Written by , Posted in Reviews

2 Stars

Best for: People who like a whole lot of randomness in their novels.

In a nutshell: Woman who was likely abused when a child believes she’s a fairy and travels Dublin searching for her real home.

Line that sticks with me: “A politician is calling on another politician to do something. I would like to call on someone to do something but I don’t know if anyone would listen.”

Why I chose it: On independent bookstore day in Seattle, I visited 19 bookstores. Many were giving away mystery books wrapped in brown paper. These were galleys they’d received to determine if they’d carry a book. This is one of three I picked up throughout the day.

Review: The reviews on the back of this book trouble me a bit, as I feel like they are treating the main character, Vivian, as though she is simply quirky, when in truth she appears to instead be experiencing some form of mental illness that could likely benefit from some assistance. So much of her time is taken up searching for entrances to the fairy world to which she belongs. She was also likely abused by her now-deceased parents and treated very poorly by her living sister, but this isn’t explored deeply as Vivian is our narrator.

Author Caitriona Lally is talented with her prose and invokes very specific images – and smells – in the reader. As someone who has visited Dublin a fair number of times I did enjoy the recognition I felt in many of the places Vivian visited. There were certain aspects of Vivian’s personality and thinking that I could relate to, and all of it I could to some degree understand; I just don’t think the book as a whole worked well for me.

I almost gave this book three stars, but I think it needed either much more or much less; it didn’t work for me as an average-length work of fiction.

Sunday

7

May 2017

0

COMMENTS

Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: People looking for a personal growth book that wraps all of the big ideas into one fancy-feeling book.

In a nutshell: Different ways of looking at how to treat yourself well – body, mind and spirit.

Line that sticks with me: “Think about whether the choice will matter to you in a year.”

Why I chose it: I was in one of those stores that sells a lot of cool-looking things for the home (pillows, candles, clever cards), and this book looked and felt like a fun read.

Review: There is nothing wrong with this book. In fact, I think that 22-year-old me might have gained a lot from reading it. I like the author’s focus on being kind to yourself and not focusing on a lot of things we cannot do (there’s no “don’t eat after 10 PM”-style rules). I like that she doesn’t just look at food and movement, but at feelings and even our values.

I just didn’t feel like there was anything new in here save for the fact that it’s all together in one book. If you’re relatively young, or have never read any sort of personal growth book but are having some struggles with your life, you could certainly do worse than this book.

Sunday

7

May 2017

0

COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – May 7, 2017

Written by , Posted in What I'm Reading

It has been a bit of a week, so I know I’m missing some critical events from the last week.

Horrific Legislation and Executive Orders

“Under the amendment, states would have the all-clear to waive the ban preventing insurance companies from denying coverage to patients based on pre-existing conditions. That means companies could also deny preventive health care services, like mammograms and gynecological exams, to these patients, which many sexual assault survivors in particular rely on following an attack.” Under the GOP’s health plan, sexual assault could be considered a pre-existing condition (by Marie Solis for Mic)

Fight Back

“The phone banks began lighting up almost immediately. But to the great dismay of DHS officials, it appears many callers took the agency’s words at face value, and are making use of the hotline to report encounters with criminal aliens…of the extraterrestrial variety.” Homeland Security is not happy with your calls about space aliens (by Esther Yu Hsi Lee for Think Progress)

“St. Louis police did not initially share many details about Crawford’s death, his father, Edward Crawford Sr., told the Post-Dispatch Friday morning. But he does not believe his son’s death was intentional. ‘I don’t believe it was a suicide,’ he said, adding that investigators were ‘being hush-hush.'” The Protester [Edward Crawford] From The Famous Tear Gas Photo In Ferguson Is Dead In An Apparent Suicide (by Tamerra Griffin for Buzzfeed)

Poverty

“Other reported incidents of shaming include a child in Alabama whose arm was stamped with “I need lunch money”. Canteen workers have been instructed to throw out the meals of youngsters unable to pay. That children from poorer backgrounds have to deal with such degrading tactics speaks volumes about wider attitudes and a toxic political climate around poverty.” Lunch-shaming in schools has no place in the battle against child poverty (by Mary O’Hara for The Guardian)

Schadenfreude

“The collapse of the festival became a national punchline. Those involved believe McFarland and his co-organizer Ja Rule started out wanting to deliver on their promises — an ultra-lux experience on a private island formerly owned by Pablo Escobar, with famous models dancing on yachts, bottle service at beachside concerts, and hidden treasures accessible only by jet-ski. But all agree they knew or should have known well in advance it wasn’t going to work.” “Let’s just do it and be legends, man” (by Gabrielle Bluestone for Vice)

 

 

Sunday

7

May 2017

0

COMMENTS

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for: Those who have been sucked into the Hamilton zeitgeist; those who are interested in learning more about creative genius.

In a nutshell: Annotated lyrics to Hamilton interspersed with stories from the development of the show and spotlights on original cast members.

Line that sticks with me: “I think it’s unfair o ask actors to go onstage and expose themselves with anything less that what he calls ‘ultimate support.’”

Why I chose it: Because it’s Hamilton.

Review: I enjoy musical theater. I’m not a fanatic, but I have been known to sing along to On My Own from Les Miserables in my car more times than I can count. I put the Thoroughly Modern Millie soundtrack on in the background when I’m working. And I own the original cast recording of Hamilton on vinyl (along with Patty Lupone’s Evita).

I came to the Hamilton phenomenon a little later than most, but before some others. I’ve still not seen it, but I have tickets for the tour when it arrives in Seattle in February 2018 (on Valentine’s Day, actually). I ran around giddy when the Mixtape ended up released at 9PM instead of midnight (yay west coast!), and of course I watched the PBS special.

This book was a delight to read. I started it on Saturday afternoon and finished it up after lunch on Sunday. I didn’t want to put it down. The notations on the lyrics provide lovely insight into the choices an artist makes, but the real story lies with the chapters that follow the development of the show, from a concept album through the full-blown Broadway blockbuster it is today. The stories about the original stars provide some insight into people who all of a sudden are household names in a way that many stage actors never are.

But what I think I found most interesting were the stories about the nitty gritty – the costume design, the stage production, the choreography. My husband has maybe listened to the soundtrack once, but even he didn’t mind when I kept interrupting him with a new amazing nugget I’d learned about the behind-the-scenes world. And the section about “It’s Quiet Uptown” – devastating.

I can’t imagine that anyone who is interested in the musical hasn’t at least added it to their to be read pile, but if there are any holdouts, there’s no need. Check it out.

Saturday

6

May 2017

0

COMMENTS

There’s Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say by Paula Poundstone

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: People who enjoy Paula Poundstone on Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me.

In a nutshell: Comedian shares details of her life – including the time when she was convicted of endangering her children – against the backdrop of historical biographies. Seriously.

Line that sticks with me: I listened to the audio book, so I can’t quote directly, but I, too, was a girl cast as Peter Quince in an elementary school production of Midsummer Nights’ Dream.

Why I chose it: Ms. Poundstone has a new book out, which I was hoping would be available on audio. It is not yet, but this one was, and so I picked it up.

Review: I started listening to this book this morning on my run, and kept it going all morning as I cleaned up, did chores, painted my nails. It was fun to listen to, engaging, and generally a good way to stay entertained on a Saturday when I have things to do but don’t want to listen to music.

Ms. Poundstone is regularly featured on Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me on NPR; I also saw her stand-up show in Seattle a few years ago. I’ve found her mostly endearing, and was definitely surprised when she was charged with, among other things, ‘lewd acts with a minor’ many years ago. She addresses the arrest and sentencing in the book (the lewd act charge was dropped; she was punished instead for endangering her children by driving drunk with them in the car), allowing for the seriousness of it all while reflecting on some of the more absurd parts.

What makes the whole book kind of odd, but in a good way, is that each of the seven chapters intertwines parts of her story with the biography of an historical figure. Joan of Arc, Beethoven, Helen Keller and others are heavily featured. Ms. Poundstone isn’t comparing herself to them in any serious way; their accomplishments serve as a way for her to self-deprecatingly associate her life and challenges with those of others. And honestly, I learned a few things about these historical figures along the way, which was unexpected but a clever way to frame a book.

I also appreciated how she was open with the fact that she doesn’t have sex, and doesn’t enjoy it. She doesn’t judge others for having sex, and makes a couple of jokes at her own expense about it (namely focusing on how tired she is that even if she were doing sex correctly, as she assumes she wasn’t, she can’t imagine it being better than good sleep), but it is refreshing to hear someone speak openly about not being interested in it.

I can’t urge anyone to race out and get this, and there were certainly some cringe-worthy moments (I’m still not sure how I feel about the first part of the last chapter, which was focused on Chief Sitting Bull), but overall I think it was worth a Saturday morning’s worth of time.

Tuesday

2

May 2017

0

COMMENTS

The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit

Written by , Posted in Feminism, Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: People who enjoy Ms. Solnit’s writing.

In a nutshell: Essays on the experiences of women.

Line that sticks with me: “The entitlement to be the one who is heard, believed, and respected has silenced so many women who may never be heard, in so many cases.”

Why I chose it: I’ve enjoyed Ms. Solnit’s writing in the past.

Review: I wish I had more energy to do this review justice. I definitely enjoyed many of the essays in this book, and as always Ms. Solnit has a way with words that any writer would envy. That said – I don’t know. This one didn’t do as much for me as her last book.

I found the second half of the book to be more engaging and interesting to read than the first half, although I did underline and make notes on quite a few passages throughout. Her words on the Isla Vista murders and on rape jokes are especially good, but I can’t really imagine that I’ll be buying this for friends or returning to it often over the years to come.