ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Monthly Archive: August 2019

Thursday

22

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

Severance by Ling Ma

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoy novels that move around in time. Those who liked Station Eleven.

In a nutshell:
The fever has taken over the world. Candace has survived it, and is now traveling with other survivors. Through chapters alternating in the past and present, we learn what Candace’s life (and the life of her immigrant parents) was like, and is like now.

Worth quoting:
“It made me wistful for the illusion of New York more than for its actuality, after having lived there for five years.”

Why I chose it:
I saw it in a few book stores and kept picking it up. Finally had to go for it.

Review:
This is a situation where I don’t want to give away too much, because I think the less you know, the more interesting the book is. I accidentally glanced at just a bit of one Cannonballer’s review in my feed and while they didn’t spoil anything, I think something they mentioned did take away from my reading of it because I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I suggest that, if you’re at all interested in reading this book, you just pick it up and read it.

The book looks at so many big ideas — capitalism, immigration, survivalism, urban living — but also smaller, relatable intimacies, such as competition at work, relationships (romantic, platonic, familial), daily life choices. Her boyfriend Jonathan starts out as a mildly interesting character, but I found Candace’s evolution of her view of him to be relatable and more interesting that Jonathan himself.

I like the style of going back and forth in time – I’m not sure this book would be as compelling were it told in a straightforward manner. But at the same time, author Ma is a talented writer, able to create a vivid picture without flowery or overly-descriptive language. I have a strong idea of what the manufacturing plant in China looks like, the hotel, Candace’s New York apartments, her office. I did live in New York for many years, so I think that may have increased my enjoyment of the book a bit, but if it were set in another major city I’m sure I would have devoured it all the same (in any case, I started this book on a Wednesday and finished it Thursday evening, and worked both of those days).

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Pass to a Friend. One has already called dibs, in fact.

Wednesday

21

August 2019

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COMMENTS

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
People who enjoy quality fiction, ridiculously good writing, and are looking for something a little different in their protagonist.

In a nutshell:
Writer Arthur Less’s ex-boyfriend is getting married. Arthur Less is about to turn 50. Instead of wallowing, Arthur Less decides to accept all the literary invites he’s received and spend the summer traveling the world.

Worth quoting:
“You and me, we’ve met geniuses. And we know we’re not like them, don’t we? What is it like to go on, knowing you are not a genius, knowing you are a mediocrity? I think it’s the worst kind of hell.”

Why I chose it:
My sister was reading this over the holidays a couple of years ago. We saw it in a bookstore and she said she really enjoyed it so I picked it up.

Review:
What a fun and unexpected novel. I’ve lately been enjoying media about older adults (Grace and Frankie is a favorite) because I just don’t think — outside of endless procedurals on CBS — we have enough stories about people who aren’t in their 20s and 30s. Occasionally some 40s sneak in there, but movies like The Wife, or books like Less, are interesting explorations of parts of life we don’t often see.

Arthur Less is an author who has one ex who is a well known and highly regarded genius poet and another who is about to get married. He’s not sure what’s going on with his latest book, and he’s not sure what’s going on in the rest of his life. So when the invitation to his ex’s wedding he instead decides to go to an awards ceremony in Italy, to teach a course in Germany, to go to a writer’s retreat in India. And he learns things about himself along the way, but not the things you think.

Yes, I realize that might sound like a gay male version of Eat Pray Love but I PROMISE you it is not. It’s so much more.

But this isn’t just a well-crafted, well-plotted book. It’s a book that also has gorgeous writing that isn’t pretentious. It isn’t a challenge to read, but instead an utter pleasure. I mean, look at this sentence fragment: ‘an almond croissant is soon in his hands, covering him in buttered confetti.’ That is GORGEOUS. Gorgeous. And now I want an almond croissant.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it. Knowing how it ends, I want to read it again.

Sunday

18

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – August 18 2019

Written by , Posted in What I'm Reading

Call to Action

“The Trump-Pence Administration has truly outdone itself. Their latest proposal at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) seeks to strip away explicit healthcare protections on the basis of gender identity, effectively targeting transgender and gender non-conforming people’s access to critical care. Erasing these protections is not only discriminatory but against the public health and the mission of HHS.” Tell HHS you are NOT OK with Discrimination

Tr*mp Hatred of Immigrants

“The rule means many green card and visa applicants could be turned down if they have low incomes or little education, and have used benefits such as most forms of Medicaid, food stamps, and housing vouchers, because they’d be deemed more likely to need government assistance in the future.” Trump admin announces rule that could limit legal immigration over use of public benefits (by Priscilla Alvarez, Geneva Sands and Tami Luhby for CNN)

Labor

“Greenwell said Friday that she feels “heartbroken” about leaving and that, while she does not want to be seen as a victim, recent decisions by company brass left her with few options. Among the many grievances, Greenwell said, G/O leadership refused to guarantee editorial independence for Deadspin and asked for the site to “stick to sports”—a long-running source of frustration for a staff that also covers media, politics, and culture beyond sports.” Deadspin Editor Quits, Rails Against Bosses: ‘I’ve Been Repeatedly Lied To and Gaslit’ (by Maxwell Tani for the Daily Beast)

“That elicited a reply from Live Science staff writer Rafi Letzter, who offered to provide Barstool workers info on the unionization process and explain “how little power your boss has to stop you.” Live Science’s staff is represented by the Writers Guild of America East. On Tuesday, Portnoy said he would fire anyone who attempted to contact Letzter. In response to another commenter, who claimed to be a lawyer offering pro-bono assistance to Barstool employees wanting to unionize, Portnoy wrote, “Anybody who hires this lawyer will be fired immediately and I will personally sue you for damages and back wages.”” Barstool Sports Founder Threatens to Fire Employees Engaged in Unionizing, Which Is Against the Law (by Todd Spangler for Variety)

Misogyny at Work

“I wish I could tell you that it’s gotten better. It hasn’t. Gamergate gave birth to a new kind of celebrity troll, men who made money and built their careers by destroying women’s reputations. It poisoned our politics and our society. Attacks on journalists, disinformation campaigns, the online radicalization of young men — these are depressingly familiar symptoms of our current dysfunction.” I Wish I Could Tell You It’s Gotten Better. It Hasn’t. (by Brianna Wu for the New York Times)

“We entered this week’s mediation with representatives of USSF full of hope,” the players’ spokesperson, Molly Levinson, said in a statement. “Today we must conclude these meetings sorely disappointed in the federation’s determination to perpetuate fundamentally discriminatory workplace conditions and behavior. It is clear that USSF, including its board of directors and president Carlos Cordeiro, fully intend to continue to compensate women players less than men. They will not succeed. We want all of our fans, sponsors, peers around the world, and women everywhere to know we are undaunted and will eagerly look forward to a jury trial.” After Breakdown in Mediation Talks, USWNT Lawsuit Likely Heading to Federal Court (by Grant Wahl for Sports Illustrated)

Reproductive Health

“Tens of thousands of women with CVS/Caremark pharmacy coverage could lose much-needed service through Pill Club.” CVS, don’t take away access to birth control (The Pill Club)

 

Sunday

11

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – 11 August 2019

Written by , Posted in What I'm Reading

US Immigration Policy

“He was a member of the Chaldean Catholic minority, many of whose members fled Iraq following the second U.S. invasion. He did not speak Arabic and had never been to Iraq. But when he encountered legal issues in the United States, which his lawyer attributed to his his mental health issues including paranoid schizophrenia, he was deported to Iraq by the Trump Administration. Now Aldaoud is dead, according to a Facebook post by his lawyer, who said he likely died because he could not obtain insulin in Iraq to treat his diabetes.” ICE Deported a Man to a Place He’d Never Lived. Now He’s Dead (by Peter Wade for Rolling Stones)

“The ICE raids, carried out under the leadership of a Donald Trump-appointed US attorney, took place at seven food processing plants in six Mississippi cities. Photographs of crying children left distraught when their parents were taken into custody immediately went viral worldwide. Father Jeremy Tobin, a Catholic priest who works with the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (Mira), told the Guardian he had been flooded with worried calls and messages from immigrants, documented and undocumented alike.” Crying children and broken families: huge raids break immigrant communities (by Ashton Pittman for the Guardian)

Gun Violence

“One could have predicted that Bedoya was going to make some kind of on-field statement against the horrors that have become a part of daily life in this country. Before the game, Bedoya tweeted, “Seeing more thoughts and prayers bullshit. Words without actions are just worthless. America, it seems, is becoming a dystopian society. Do something!!! Enough!!!” After the contest, a 5-1 win for Philadelphia, Bedoya said to reporters, “I’m not going to sit idly and wait for things to happen 50 years from now—I want change now.” A Soccer Player’s On-Field Message to Congress: ‘Do Something Now. End Gun Violence. Let’s Go!’ (by Dave Zirin for The Nation)

White Supremacy and Nationalism

“We also have to begin to take seriously the role that cable is playing in spreading these keywords that are associated with these manifestos and so, one of the things that we’re noting in a pattern is that there’s a you know publication of the manifesto then there’s the attack and then there’s the cycle, the media cycle that the manifesto gets washed through. And what we’re noting is that there’s a lot more attention to these manifestos now than there ever was before.” How news organizations should cover white supremacist shootings, according to a media expert (PBS NewsHour)

“A Mineral County man has been charged with assault of a minor for slamming a child to the ground during the national anthem at the Mineral County fairgrounds. The 13-year-old boy was flown to Spokane after receiving temporal skull fractures in the incident that happened at the Mineral County Fairgorunds.” Montana man accused of assaulting child for not removing hat during national anthem (by Kent Luetzen for KBZK)

Brexit

“But here’s a simple, grim fact about Brexit that has been successfully obscured by Johnson’s repetitive focus on the Halloween deadline. Brexit will not be “done” by October 31, 2019. Or 2020. Or 2030. In truth, Brexit will never be “done”. This is one of the many awful ironies of Brexit. The people selling and voting for it shared some desire to reduce the role of “Europe” in our national life. In fact, leaving will only increase the time and energy we spend considering and constructing our relationships with the European Union.” Leaving on October 31 won’t be the end of this. Brexit will never be over (by James Kirkup for Evening Standard)

US Presidential Election

“So much of Warren’s approach to pedagogy can be understood via the assumpsit gambit: With it, she establishes direct communication and affirms that she’s not going to be doing all the talking or all the thinking; she’s going to be hearing from everyone in the room. By starting with a question that so many get wrong but wind up learning the answer to, she’s also telegraphing that not knowing is part of the process of learning.” Elizabeth Warren’s Classroom Strategy (by Rebecca Traister for The Cut)

“Indigenous people have been continually subject to cruelty and neglect at the hands of the federal government. We deserve a president who will strengthen tribal sovereignty, honor treaty commitments, ensure justice for Indigenous women, and advance tribal-federal partnerships for progress. As president, I will partner with Indigenous communities for a fairer and more prosperous future. My People First Indigenous Communities platform lays out a blueprint for ensuring all native people and communities can thrive in the years ahead.” People First Indigenous Communities Policy (by Julián Castro)

Something Good (Especially for those who have lived in NYC):

This is an impression of when you’re sitting on the subway and a tourist tries to read the subway map that’s right behind your head.

Long time fan, first time caller with the other side of this exchange.

Thursday

8

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

There Are No Grown-Ups by Pamela Druckerman

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People looking for a perfectly entertaining collection of essays about mid-life.

In a nutshell:
Author Druckerman shares what she has learned as she entered her 40s.

Worth quoting:
“As you keep looking at things, you see more and more in them.”

Why I chose it:
I finished my book and had a train ride back to the UK ahead of me. This was one of the English-language books available, and it was by an author I’d read before.

Review:
As I mentioned in a previous review, I’m turning 40 next year, so some of my book choices are focused on that reality. This book happened to fit into that trend, and it offered some interesting insights. Some of the chapters within the book are clearly repurposed versions of previous essay’s Druckerman has written, but she manages to make them mostly fit together.

On thing I appreciate about her writing is her honest self-assessment. Well, at least it seems honest (I don’t know her), as it isn’t always flattering, nor is it self-deprecating in a way that reeks of false humility. She wonders if she has any immutable characteristics; she struggles to make friends.

She isn’t totally relatable, and I don’t think I agree with all of her suggestions and advice, but some components – especially chapters 18 (’How to figure out what’s happening) and 21 (how to say no) – resonated with me. I’m definitely happy I picket it up.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it (I’ll be tossing it, but only because I got a lot of tomato juice on my copy)

Thursday

8

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

Ghosted by Rosie Walsh

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Finished: 2 August 2019

BINGO:
Summer Read

Best for:
Fans of the Liane Moriarty school or interwoven stories with a serious mystery at the center.

In a nutshell:
Sarah and Eddie spent an amazing week together before he left for a quick holiday. She hasn’t heard from him since, even though they basically declared their love for each other. Is he just a jerk, or is there something else going on?

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
Wandered into a bookshop looking for Nine Perfect Strangers, but it’s still in hardback so way too big for travel. This cover reminded me of Moriarty’s style, then I read the back and thought ‘yup, this is perfect to read on the lake this summer.’

Review:

Whew, after two serious non-fiction books in a row I needed this. It isn’t exactly light reading, but it was quick and enthralling and I quite literally did not want to put it down. (Seriously, I was annoyed when I had to set it aside so I could shower this morning.) I started it yesterday late in the day and finished it over lunch today. I wanted to know how it ended, but I also enjoyed the path author Walsh took to get us there.

The book is broken into three parts, and most of it is told from the perspective of our protagonist Sarah. We learn early on that she’s lost her sister at a young age, and she carries that loss with her into adulthood, where it factors into major life choices like leaving the UK for the US and her career path. She meets Eddie on a visit home to the UK but doesn’t yet tell him the details of her childhood.

Then, he’s gone. They promise to meet up after his trip to Spain but she doesn’t hear from him again after they part ways. He doesn’t respond to texts or voicemail and hasn’t checked in on social media (but also hasn’t blocked her), leading Sarah to think, given how intense their week together was, that something has gone horribly wrong.

To tell you anything more would take away from your enjoyment of this book. But please trust me when I say that there are some turns you see coming and some turns you don’t. And I’ll be honest in that the ending wasn’t the one I would have picked but I think it still works well (hence the five star review).

Really my biggest issue with the whole book is the part where Sarah realizes she didn’t ask Eddie how he was going to vote on the Brexit Referendum (the book starts in the summer of 2016). If there was any chance he was going to vote Leave, I’d say that ghosting was really a blessing.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it – leaving it at this lake house so the next guests can enjoy it.

Thursday

8

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

Working the Phones by Jamie Woodcock

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Finished: 1 August 2019

BINGO:
Award Winner: 2016 Labor History Best Book

Best for:
Those who enjoy a good case study / ethnography and are interested in the state of organizing today.

In a nutshell:
Academic Jamie Woodcock is interested in labour organizing and, as his PhD dissertation spent time in a call center to learn more about the work — and the resistance — taking place there.

Worth quoting:
“‘There were all sorts of rules.’ For example, ‘hanging coats on the back of your chair was banned, little things like that.’ These were things that did not affect the productivity of workers directly. This suggests the rules were more about power.”

“The advent of computer surveillance means the fiction of the ever-watching supervisor could become reality. Even if they were to miss something at the time, the records can be scoured for transgressions after the fact.”

Why I chose it:
I know the author through my partner. We were at his flat for dinner, and I noticed the book on the shelf and asked if I could read it.

Review:

As mentioned above, I have met the author.

Right up front, to be clear: this is an academic book. Some people who write particularly interesting dissertations on topics that might be of interest to the general public are able to convert their dissertation into a book, as Woodcock has done here. And it generally works quite well. Yes, there are some sections that are a little hard to follow as I don’t have a strong background in labor writing (I’ve yet to read any Marx, for example), but at no point was I confused as to the general points the author was making.

The book looks at call centers in the UK and how organizing might be able to take hold there. In order to better understand the work, Woodcock didn’t just research it, he performed it, getting hired at a sales call center that peddled insurance. From that vantage point he was able to better understand the pressures and stresses in the center (sales targets looming large overhead, bonuses that management push as simple to obtain but that few ever get) and experience the little ways that the workers resist management attempts at exerting power over the workers.

Call center work sounds horrible in general — no one getting a sales call is happy to get one, though some folks might listen long enough to become interested in the product. But the working conditions are so stressful, and management puts in place little rules (like needing to wear business casual clothes even though no customer sees them) designed to remind workers that they are at the mercy of management. They are also on zero-hour contracts and can be fired at will. It’s not great.

But can it be better? I mean, other than eliminating the industry altogether, what options exist for those who do need this work, at least as a stopgap? That is what Woodcock looks at in relation to his time there — what can those who can be fired mid-shift do collectively to get better working conditions or pay? Are unions still relevant, and if they are, are they set up to support this type of work?

As I said upfront, this is an academic book, but it was an easy read, and I felt I learned a lot about labor studies, labor history, and organising.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Pass to a Friend — my partner

Thursday

8

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

BINGO:
Science

Best for:
Those looking for specific clear descriptions of what the earth may look like at different levels of warming.

In a nutshell:
Science writer Wallace-Wells looks at what has happened so far, what is likely to happen, and what the greater implicates will be as related to climate change.

Worth quoting:
“Almost regardless of your politics or your consumption choices, the wealthier you are, the larger your carbon footprints.”

“More than 140 million people in just three regions of the world will be made climate migrants by 2050.”

“Every round-trip plane ticket from New York to London, keep in mind, costs the Arctic three more square meters of ice.”

Why I chose it:
The author spoke with Chris Hayes on his ‘Why is This Happening?’ podcast. I’ve not yet listened to the episode but will now that I’ve read the book

Review:

This book is great if you are interested in having more information on specifically what we are looking at when it comes to climate change. In addition to everything we’ve seen recently (more storms, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the UK and other parts of Europe, fires raging above the arctic circle), Wallace-Wells dives deeply into the specific horrors we can expect to see, including: loss of crops, increased deaths in hot temperatures, areas becoming unlivable, oceans dying, air becoming more polluted, and climate conflict, among others. It is bleak.

It’s even more distressing when you consider, as he does, that we’ve known there are issues for years an we continue to do nothing. If we’d started cutting back on our emissions when we learned about these issues we would have been able to make slight cuts annually; now we need to make huge changes, which means altering every aspect of our lives, starting at the government and corporate levels (sorry, but the ableist straw bans so many people pushed for over the last year won’t do much of anything to slow global warming; in fact our plastic use apparently has very little direct impact on climate change in general).

The book is an interesting and well-researched read, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of solutions. ‘Reduce emissions everywhere, everyone’ may in fact be the reality we need to fact, but there’s nothing here that offers ideas for a path forward. At times it feels almost fatalistic, even though the author repeatedly points out that the future is not written and we can still make changes. By describing the problem and talking a bit about what it means philosophically should humanity essentially go extinct, the author keeps himself in a very specific lane.

I would have perhaps enjoyed instead a book that included all of this science writing and then, with a second author and a second part, laid out the specific steps we need to take. We need action in the form of huge, sweeping changes, which starts with voting in the leaders who will take those actions. But also … I’d like to see what are the actions that have been proposed and are feasible? And what does feasibility look like when we’re talking about something as dire as this? I included that quote about flights at the top of my review because, despite all I’m doing to reduce my footprint (not eating meat, not having children, not owning a car), I’m writing this on family vacation in New England, having flown in from London a week ago. I fly to the US at least twice a year, and in that I’m causing a huge problem. Should air travel stop? What would that mean for other aspects of life? Movement of goods? Movement of mail? Do those of us who live far from family just say goodbye?

I guess my point here is that I’m already sold on the problems, though it is good to have specific areas to point to. I’m interested now in learning about the different solutions and having the conversation about what it means to implement those solutions.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it