ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Author Archive

Friday

19

January 2018

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COMMENTS

10% Happier by Dan Harris

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Three Stars

Best for: People who find meditation interesting but maybe aren’t ready to jump into reading the Dalai Lama’s works just yet.

In a nutshell: TV journalist has panic attack on air; tries to do something about it.

Worth quoting:
“Make the present moment your friend rather than your enemy.”
“Acceptance is not passivity. Sometimes we are justifiably displeased. What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, ‘respond’ rather than simply ‘react.’
“Perhaps ask yourself the following question: ‘Is this useful?’”

Why I chose it: Over the holidays I was visiting my parents, and they often have morning news on. Mr. Harris was on promoting his newest book. I was about to move across the world, so decided that maybe a thick hardcover wasn’t the best purchase; then I saw this one (which is a few years old) and picked it up instead.

Review: I’ve meditated before. I’ve read books on Buddhism and mindfulness and meditation. I even have a little meditation timer. My partner meditates. I haven’t done it in awhile, so this seemed like a good idea for what has ended up being some of the most stressful weeks of my life.

Mr. Harris has worked for ABC news for years, hosting at times the weekend edition of Good Morning America, as well as reporting segments for the national evening news. He also had a panic attack on TV one time, which led him to reevaluate how he was living his life.

Turns out that part of that panic attack was related to cocaine use (hello!), but also by his constant need to be in his thoughts. So he took the opportunities alloted to him as a journalist to research more about meditation and mindfulness, interviewing folks like Eckard Tolle, Depak Chopra, and even the Dalai Lama himself. This book is the story both of how he overcame his skepticism as well as how meditation has helped him in his life.

I appreciated how Mr. Harris was upfront about his faults and flaws, and didn’t act as though meditation fixed all the things in his life immediately, or even ever. In fact, his overall premise is that it can help you be about 10% happier. That seems reasonable. I also appreciated that he did look at the religious aspect of it, but there were definitely some moments where I wondered if this was the equivalent of the 20-something white woman who decides to teach yoga without really investigating the history behind it. Is this another example of white westerners picking and choosing things from other cultures without properly respecting them? I’m not sure.

That said, I’ve meditated a bit since I moved 7000 miles from home last week. It’s been exhausting, stressful, and at times a bit scary (I mean turning my cats over to cargo at 3AM, knowing we wouldn’t see them again for at least 24 hours was horrible), but as we’ve faced unforeseen challenges (who knew that it’s extraordinarily difficult to internationally wire money from credit unions ?) I’ve mostly been able to sort of keep my shit kind of together by taking to heart some ideas from this book. Especially the “is this useful” concept. Yes, I can be worried about a lot of things, but once I’ve done what I can do, that worry is only giving me a headache and/or stomachache. It was useful in helping me to be careful in the steps I took, but now it’s just a literal pain.

So am I going to meditate every day? Maaaaaybe. Maybe not.

Saturday

30

December 2017

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COMMENTS

Black Panther #1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Three Stars

Best for: Fans of graphic novels in the Marvel universe.

In a nutshell: I’m not entirely sure what is going on.

Line that sticks with me: N/A

Why I chose it: We are in the midst of a huge book purge because it costs an absurd amount of money to ship books overseas, and this one from my partner’s pile caught my eye.

Review: I think this is a situation where I needed to have more background to fully understand what was going on. I felt like I was dropped into the middle of a story that everyone else already knew. Like, starting on book three of Harry Potter without having read the first two. It’d be confusing, right? That’s how this felt, although this is the first book.

Despite having trouble understanding exactly what was going on, I still enjoyed reading it. There were interesting characters, and the story’s ending definitely made me interested enough to seek out book two when I have the chance.

This is also the 104th book I’ve read this year. I kind of can’t believe it. I’m going to do a wrap-up post about my reading over on my own website (askmusings.com) sometime in the next couple of days if you want to check that out. It was fun to set such a big goal and reach it primarily with non-fiction books (although I did have a few novels and graphic novels in there as well). I think I only did maybe one audio book this year too. Which isn’t to say that reading 104 audio books would have been any less of an achievement; it just wasn’t my focus this year.

However, I did notice that setting such a high goal meant that some longer, more involved books went unread. There’s a 500+ page book on the problems of policing that I want to dive into, for example, but every time I looked at it, I thought about my reading goal. And that’s probably not how this all should go down. So next year, it’s back to the regular 52-book cannonball read for me.

Saturday

30

December 2017

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COMMENTS

It’s All Relative by A. J. Jacobs

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Three Stars

Best for: Fans of the experiential non-fiction genre. (I don’t know if that’s actually a thing; it’s just what I call books based on people doing something and then writing about it. Like Morgan Spurlock’s SuperSize Me, but in book form.)

In a nutshell: Author Jacobs decides to explore the connection between all of us, via our ancestors.

Line that sticks with me: “You want to be a Steve Jobs? You want to be an Albert Einstein? Don’t ever confuse that with being a good family man, or a good human being.”

Why I chose it: I’ve read his other books and enjoyed them.

Review: You might be familiar with Mr. Jacobs’s other work. He’s the guy who read the encyclopedia Britannica, who spent a year living by different commands from the Bible, and who tried all sorts of different ways to live his healthiest life. In this book, he decides to throw the world’s largest family reunion, based on the idea that we are all family.

He comes onto this plan when he is contacted by someone who claims to be his eighth cousin. Which, if I understand correctly, means they share the same great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents. The full premise is, if you go back far enough, we all have the same initial great x whatever grandparents. But even without going back that far, you can find relatives that you can actually trace your connection to.

Why does this matter? Because, according to Mr. Jacobs’s hopes, perhaps if we think of the stranger in front of us as a possible relative, we’ll be kinder to them. And not just on an individual level, but on a larger philosophical level.

The book itself is a fun, pretty quick read. If you like his previous work, this won’t disappoint you.

Friday

29

December 2017

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COMMENTS

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

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Four Stars

Best for: Those looking for a compelling memoir. Those interested in learning more about South Africa.

In a nutshell: Comedian Trevor Noah shares stories from his life growing up in South Africa.

Line that sticks with me: “People say all the time that they’d do anything for the people they love. But would you really? Would you do anything? Would you give everything?” (p279)

Why I chose it: My sister gave this to my partner as a Christmas gift. I took it to read before he could start it. Sorry not sorry.

Review: I’m not a Trevor Noah fan. Not in an ‘I dislike him’ sort of way. I just am not familiar with much of his work. I enjoyed The Daily Show when Jon Stewart hosted, but I didn’t watch much of it during the last couple years of his tenure, and when Mr. Noah took over, I didn’t have any way to record the show, so I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him host it. I recall he got some shit for some older jokes when he was hired (something about his perspective on being Black in the US is very different given his South African roots).

With that in mind, I was a bit skeptical of this book and had avoided it even though memoirs by comedians are kind of my thing. But when it basically dropped into my lap, I started reading. I started reading it yesterday and finished it today. Less than 24 hours. Granted, I actually had some down time in which to read it (thank you, last day of an eight day, five stop road trip), but it was also simply a compelling story.

I know very little about South Africa beyond the basics that are taught in the US public schools I attended: there was apartheid (which isn’t ever really explained), and then Nelson Mandela and then everything was mostly fine. Like I said, I know very little, and that little isn’t even accurate. This book, in addition to providing the story of Mr. Noah’s life, provides some history of South Africa and apartheid. Which makes sense, given the title: “Born a Crime.” Trevor’s parents were not legally allowed to have sex (his dad is white, his mom is black). That’s intense.

Some of the stories in the book are light; some are quite intense. One bit of warning: if you’re looking for anything related to the start of his career in comedy, wait for (the presumedly forthcoming) next memoir. There is one line in the whole book that even hints that he ended up in a career in comedy. Which, fine with me, as the story he did choose to tell stands on its own.

Thursday

28

December 2017

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COMMENTS

Obama by Pete Souza

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Five Stars

Best for: Anyone who wants to be reminded of what it’s like to have a compassionate, intelligent person as US President.

In a nutshell: Official White House Photographer Pete Souza shares a history of the Obama Presidency in photos and text.

Line that sticks with me: The very last photo, of President Obama looking at the White House from Executive (formerly Marine) One, made me tear up.

Why I chose it: My stepmother-in-law gifted my husband and I this massive book for Christmas. We’re moving overseas in less than two weeks but I don’t even care that we now have an extra five pounds to pack.

Review: Sigh. I know that President Obama was not perfect. He made some decisions that I disagree with. He was not as progressive as I would have likes. But damn, I strongly believe that he was — and is — a very good human being. A kind person. A loving parent and partner. An intelligent person interested in doing good things.

These are qualities that I believe are missing from the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And while that man does appear in two photos near the very end, the rest of this 350 page book documents — mostly in photos but also in words — what life is like for an active, engaged President. Specifically, what life was like for President Obama.

From extraordinarily challenging times like responding to the Sandy Hook massacre, to goofing off with his daughters or staffers’ children, this book captures it all. And yet you know it also shows just a small bit of what those eight years were like.

As I have said (probably more than necessary), we move to London in just a couple of weeks. This book will be coming with us. When I read about the latest thing the current President has done to harm the US, I’ll look back at this book and remember that we had someone who cared, and it is possible that we will have someone who cares again.

Wednesday

27

December 2017

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COMMENTS

A World Without “Whom” by Emmy J. Favilla

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Five Stars

Best for: People who enjoy words. People interested in how language use has changed since the internet.

In a nutshell: Buzzfeed Copy Chief shares her perspective on language use for online writing.

Line that sticks with me: “Shakespeare used the singular they, as did a gaggle of other writers, including Jane Austen and Geoffrey Chaucer, as long ago as the 1300s. This is not a new trend, people!” (p 219)

Why I chose it: I love words and writing.

Review: A couple of years ago you might recall seeing stories about the “style guide for the internet.” Ms. Favilla was responsible for that, as she compiles and updates the BuzzFeed style guide. And while it only technically covers copy written for BuzzFeed, what it includes has likely been adopted by many writers of online content.

Ms. Favilla is a fun, talented writer. She makes topics that might be dry in less talented hand interesting and lively. Her perspective is that language is alive, and that to better communicate with each other we should be adapting to those changes. Some such changes will be obvious to you, but others might not be as apparent until you think about them. She has a great section on writing about sensitive topics “How to Not Be a Jerk,” which only has one area that I would disagree with – she says one should say “people with disabilities,” and I know there is disagreement in disability communities about whether that or “disabled person” is preferable.

The book doesn’t just cover traditional language; it also discusses emoticons, emojis, and words that may or may not be ‘real.’ You know, the things that make up the internet.

While Ms. Favilla and I disagree strongly on the pronunciation of .gif (PEANUT BUTTER VERSION FOR THE WIN), I’m hard pressed to find anything else of major contention. While the book is long and not quite a quick read, it’s definitely worth it. It will be on my shelf as a reference for years to come.

Thursday

21

December 2017

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COMMENTS

Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding

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4 Stars

Best for: Those looking for some inspiration in a variety of voices.

In a nutshell: Leading feminist writers from diverse backgrounds share their thoughts on different aspects of what the election of Trump means.

Line that sticks with me: I’m writing this while on vacation, so I don’t have my book with me. But I underlined a ton and will be keeping the book to reread some essays.

Why I chose it: I saw authors I admire (Rebecca Skolnit! Jessica Valenti! Samantha Irby!)

Review: It’s impressive to pull together this many essays from so many great writers so quickly after the shit show that was the 2016 election. The authors look at a variety of issues, including moving to a red state, the failure of white women, the exclusion of trans women, the role of class, how black women were included in the Clinton campaign, and more.

My least favorite essay was probably from Sarah Jaffe – it seemed a bit off tonally and felt a little Bernie Bro-y to me. I think I get what she was going for, but the execution didn’t work for me. Meanwhile, Samantha Irby’s article about moving to be with her wife and not being entirely sure how engaged she wanted to be in figuring out what the white people she encountered thought of her was a great read.

I also enjoyed the final essay of the book, by Nicole Chung. The holidays are here, and I’m about to spend a week with some folks who may not have voted for Trump, but who tend to agree with a lot of his policies. Ms Chung looks at the obligations we have to talk to those who feel that way.

Even with the one essay that I wasn’t a huge fan of (and it wasn’t bad, I just didn’t enjoy it), I still highly recommend this essay collection, especially if you need a reminder that things didn’t just get bad on November 9, 2016 or if you need to some inspiration to keep fighting the good fight.

Thursday

21

December 2017

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COMMENTS

The Happiness Hack by Ellen Petry Leanse

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2 Stars

Best for: No one

In a nutshell: Adviser to tech folks (I think) attempts to turn what must have started as a TED talk into a book.

Line that sticks with me: N/A

Why I chose it: I saw some tips from it in a magazine I was reading and it sounded cool. Lesson learned.

Review: This is a pretty short book, so I read it in a couple of evenings. Last night I was about 75% through and I said to my husband “What’s the music that builds and builds but never pays off? Is that EDM? Because this book is the EDM of books.”

Seriously, there is so much build up and explaining of why our brains might be easily distracted, and how that is keeping us from being happy, but she doesn’t ever get to the point. She doesn’t land the plane. I’m sold! I believe you that distractions and technology can have negative impacts and disconnect us from loved ones (although for some people it makes connection better): so what do you think I should do about it?

I don’t know. I’m not sure if the author knows. There are a lot of colorful pages with quotes from wise people, but other than reconnecting with loved ones, there’s no THERE there. And there are certainly no happiness hacks.

Sunday

17

December 2017

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COMMENTS

What I’m Reading: December 17, 2017

Written by , Posted in What I'm Reading

Horrific Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Action

“Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden terms at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden terms are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.” In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.” CDC gets list of forbidden words: Fetus, transgender, diversity (by Lena H. Sun and Juliet Eilperin for Washington Post)

“According to a tally by AL.com columnist John Archibald, eight of the 10 Alabama counties with the highest percentage of non-white registered voters saw their driver’s license offices closed. “Every single county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see their driver license office closed. Every one,” Archibald wrote. Archibald also noted that many of the counties where offices were closed also leaned Democrat.” Alabama Demands Voter ID–Then Closes Driver’s License Offices In Black Counties (by Tierney Sneed for TPM)

Racism

“When I read that chapter and later as I sat in class, I was appalled by the lack of historical context provided about how these “disorders” have been used to justify the oppression of People of Color, queer folks, trans and gender non-conforming individuals, immigrants, and those who are disabled. At the very least, there should have been a discussion about how these diagnoses still contribute to the disproportionate criminalization of Black children and their unfair expulsions from academic institutions. We were being taught as medical students to pathologize behaviors that are expressed in marginalized communities in response to unfair systems of oppression and yet we did not have the time to talk about how such a practice perpetuates injustices and ill-health. When I named the concerns I had about the erasure of anti-black racism present in the disorders and also in the lecture itself, my attempt to center such a discussion in class was seen instead as disruptive. Like those “argumentative, snotty, difficult, challenging, pain in the ass children” with ODD who passed through this professor’s practice, I needed to be put in my place.” The Silence Here is Deafening – And It Kills (by Ohenewaa Nkrumah for South Sound Emerald)

Poverty

“Entrenched poverty will be made far worse by policies being proposed by the Trump Administration, warned Philip Alston in a statement after a two-week fact-finding mission to California, Alabama, Georgia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., as well as Puerto Rico. “The American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion, as the United States now has the lowest rate of social mobility of any of the rich countries,” said the independent human rights expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to look at poverty and human rights in countries around the world.” “American Dream is rapidly becoming American Illusion,” warns UN rights expert on poverty

Disablism

“The book — which has been endorsed by Jon Stewart, who called it an “honest and illuminating love letter to Gus,” described by Kirkus Reviews as “a heartfelt ‘slice of life’ tale,” and even praised as “unique, moving, and entertaining” by Bustle writer Stephanie Topacio Long — became the center of an internet firestorm earlier this week, when the #BoycottToSiri hashtag began circulating on Twitter. The hashtag was started by Amythest Shaber, an autistic YouTuber and spurred by #ActuallyAutistic users who believe the book recklessly releases details of Gus’s life to complete strangers (Newman discusses his personal details and medical history) and maligns the autistic community in general. In certain scenes, she describes her son as “Batsh*t Crazy Kid” and “mutant.” Throughout the book, she also references the work of known eugenicists Alfred Hoche and Karl Binding, and writes that she does not believe her son should have children of his own.” Why I Believe ‘To Siri With Love’ By Judith Newman Is A Book That Does Incredible Damage To The Autistic Community (by Kaelan Rhywiol for Bustle)

Sexual Assault

“In recent interviews, four women spoke on the record about a pattern of violent sexual behavior by Mr. Simmons, disclosing incidents from 1988 to 2014. Three of the women say that he raped them. In each case, numerous friends and associates said they were told of the incidents at the time. The women said they were inspired to come forward in the aftermath of the accusations against Harvey Weinstein, as victims’ stories have been newly elevated and more often believed.” Music Mogul Russell Simmons Is Accused of Rape by 3 Women (by Joe Coscarelli and Melena Ryzik for New York Times)

Something Good

“But it’s been clear, too, that there is a shift under way, of undeniable changes that are altering power structures in Hollywood, in the media landscape, in politics, and beyond (and hopefully, they’ll stick). We have black women to thank for #MeToo and for the election of Doug Jones in Alabama. We have Muslims like Mahershala Ali and Riz Ahmed to thank for their representation of their religion and their culture at a time when the American president is tweeting Islamophobic crap on the regular. There is an increase in the visibility of Latina women in films like Logan, Cars 3, and Coco. And the trailers for Black Panther, which takes place in the never-colonized African country of Wakanda, have cemented it, without any doubt, as one of the must-see movies of 2018 and quite possibly the most anticipated Marvel movie yet.”  Black Excellence, Brown Pride, and the Pop Culture Gifts People of Color Gave the World in 2017 (by Roxane Hadadi for Pajiba)

Sunday

10

December 2017

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COMMENTS

Living and Working in Britain by David Hampshire

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Four Stars

Best for: People who are moving to the UK

In a nutshell: Twenty chapters of tips broken down by broad area of interest, like finance, accommodation, transportation, and health.

Line that sticks with me: N/A

Why I chose it: My partner and I (and our two cats) are moving to London in just under a month, and I’m still looking into things.

Review: I found this book to be more helpful than the other book I picked up on the topic. Part of that may be because it is focused on moving to the UK in general (not London specifically), and so half the book was not taken up with a focus on just a few London boroughs. However, I’d still like to find a book that focuses just on tips and information in different neighborhoods. I just ordered the Not for Tourists 2018 edition for London, which should meet that need.

But back to this book. I enjoyed some of the sections a great deal, especially the part about health care. I have had so much dental work done that I’m a bit nervous about leaving my dentist, so it was good to learn a bit more about what that will look like.

A couple of parts that were frustrating – one unavoidable, one less so. The section on moving pets was not fully accurate, as we now have to pay VAT when bringing in animals. But that changed in April, so I understand that it wouldn’t make it into the book. The other part was the sport section. The bit on football (the sport I’m most familiar with, so the other sections may also have had this problem) made no mention of the women’s league. Granted, in the US I’m used to the women’s national team being VASTLY superior to the men’s national team, so I expect the women’s league to be mentioned. But come on – are we really still pretending that women aren’t professional athletes?