ASK Musings

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Author Archive

Sunday

15

September 2019

0

COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – 15 September 2019

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Misogyny

“The scale of hypocrisy here is so staggering it’s almost impressive. People, often young women, who dare to speak up can expect to face public harassment and private retribution. Young women can expect to be punished for the crimes men commit against them—but if they dare to speak up, they are the ones who are “ruining lives.”” Gaming’s #MeToo Moment and the Tyranny of Male Fragility (by Laurie Penny for Wired)

Racism

“Penguin Random House, the publishers of the book, told the AP that “we’re working with our author, Eni, on this issue and are in contact with Amazon.” The players’ union in England and anti-racism activists have denounced Amazon, whose CEO is Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, for not removing the posts.” Amazon criticized over racist reviews of soccer star’s book (by Rob Harris for AP)

Religious Interference in Health Care

“We believe in a creator who has given us choice, and that’s what overarches the approach that we take,” Carlyle Walton, president of the Adventist Health Policy Association, told Rewire.News in an interview. “We think that infringing, for want of a better term, on people’s choices is not something that God has called us to do.” But that position does not extend to abortion care. Loma Linda University Health, a California-based Adventist system with six hospitals, said in a statement that it offers abortions “only in situations in which the fetus has a condition that is incompatible with life, or in a situation when the pregnancy is life-threatening to the mother.”” Meet Another Religious Health System Restricting Reproductive Care (by Amy Littlefield for Rewire)

Prison Industrial Complex

“Angola would become one of the nation’s largest maximum-security prisons — and one of its bloodiest. Over the many decades, reforms have been made, but criminal justice advocates continue to push for more. Angola, Gardullo said, is a lesson in the “long arc of history and what changes and doesn’t change.”” From a slave house to a prison cell: The history of Angola Plantation (by Krissah Thompson for Washington Post)

Trans Workers

“Before my transition, people assumed I knew what I was talking about. They didn’t talk over me in meetings. They trusted me when I spoke, and they didn’t look to others for confirmation of my ideas.There was a baseline assumption that I was competent and capable. Since my transition, it’s distressingly common for people to talk over me, to look to men for validation of the things I say, to assume that I couldn’t possibly know anything about [technical topic] because I’m a girl. I’ve actually had people tell me, “what could you possibly know about that? You’re a girl!” In a previous role at my current company, I had a male coworker who needed to be told *by my boss* “Tammy knows what she’s doing and I trust her judgment, so please stop trying to hijack her meetings and run them like they’re your meetings!”” How Work Changes When You’re A Woman: An Interview with a Transgender Woman (Ask a Manager)

For my fellow Londoners

Reduce your plastic usage!

Thursday

12

September 2019

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COMMENTS

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

Written by , Posted in Reviews

4 Stars

Best for:
Fans of Liane Moriarty, fans of mysteries that unfold in unexpected ways, and fans of books that go a little deeper than you might expect.

In a nutshell:
Alice and Jack Munro abandoned their baby girl – named Enigma – 70 years ago. She’s now a grandmother, and one of the sisters who rescued her has died, leaving behind some unfinished business.

Worth quoting:
“If her back had ever hurt like this when she was twenty she would have been hysterical, demanding painkillers and cups of tea in bed, but she has found that nobody is especially surprised to hear you’re in pain when you’re in your eighties. You might find it astonishing, but nobody else does.”

Why I chose it:
I realized after finishing her latest book that I hadn’t read all of them, so I remedied that quickly.

Review:
I liked this one a lot. I have a vivid picture of the fictional island where most of the book takes place. I can picture the characters, and while I don’t think I relate directly to any of them, I appreciate how they are mostly well-thought-out and well built characters. They aren’t one note.

The book starts after the death of Connie, who is in her 90s and was one of two sisters who discovered baby Enigma after her parents vanished from their home on the island. Connie has left her home to her great-nephew’s ex girlfriend Sophia, so that’s weird. Much of the book focuses on Sophia, but also on Grace, who is struggling deeply with post-partum depression. I was not expecting that but I think it’s handed interestingly (though I would defer to those who have actually experienced it). In broader terms the book looks at what family means, what secrets can do to and for a family, and how we often don’t really know our partners and family.

I also like that we get the perspectives of older people in the book – people in their 70s and 90s. Rarely do we have those points of view, and as I’ve mentioned before, I appreciate exploring those experiences.

I think What Alice Forgot is still my favorite of Moriarty’s books, but this one might be a close second.

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

Sunday

8

September 2019

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COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – 8 September 2019

Written by , Posted in What I'm Reading

My football (soccer) team’s Sunday league season starts today. WOOOOOOOOOO!

Racism

“But the two Chinese-born men at the center of the incident told BuzzFeed News it all began as a case of racial profiling. In their first media interview, the men said they did not know each other, did not run away, and that it was the airline employee who had been acting erratically.” What Caused The Mass Panic At Newark Airport? Racism. (by Amber Jamieson for Buzzfeed)

Healthcare

“Marjorie agreed to do the job for a flat rate of $160 per day plus room and board. Her workday starts when Bob wakes up, or before, and finishes after he goes to sleep, and can stretch for 14 or 16 hours or more. She works 26 or 27 days out of the month. The pay is not much — at 16 hours a day, it would come to $10 an hour — but Bob’s family is deeply grateful, and that counts for a lot.“If I take a client and I have the respect,” she said, “I will stay through to the end.”” On the Job, 24 Hours a Day, 27 Days a Month (by Andy Newman for the New York Times)

Anti-Trans Movements

“Last March, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor. “It is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex,” the court said in its decision. “An employer cannot discriminate on the basis of transgender status without imposing its stereotypical notions of how sexual organs and gender identity ought to align.”” The rise of anti-trans “radical” feminists, explained (by Katelyn Burns for Vox)

Something Good

WSL 2019-20: our club-by-club guide to the new season (Suzanne Wrack for The Guardian)

Saturday

7

September 2019

0

COMMENTS

Pharricide by Vincent de Swarte

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone looking for something dark, evocative, and quickly read.

In a nutshell:
Lighthouse keeper Lefayen is not doing well, folks.

Worth quoting:
N/A. Not because there wasn’t anything particularly interesting or moving; I was just so caught up in reading it that I didn’t stop to underline anything.

Why I chose it:
The cover drew my attention, and then the description on the back made me want to read it.

Review:
I didn’t close this book thinking ‘what did I just read,’ although that might be the reaction some will have. A few sections are a bit … much, but overall it is an enthralling book, one that I started and finished on a three-hour train ride. It’s the perfect book for when you’re going to have a couple of hours of undivided attention, which is what you’ll want to give it, because it’s pretty short (160 pages) and you’ll want to … not STAY in this world, but see it through.

Lefayen tells the story of his time at this lighthouse (the oldest in France) via journal entries, which get increasingly erratic. Something — or things — has happened to him in the past, which we don’t necessarily learn the full extent of (or maybe we do) but which have clearly has an impact on him. He is excited to take on this particular lighthouse keeping exercise, even though it will be through the cold of winter and he will be completely alone, save occasional resupply visits.

I’m not saying anymore, but the author is a talented writer who created this small world for us to inhabit – both the tiny lighthouse and the mind of someone who is perhaps not doing so hot.

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

Saturday

7

September 2019

0

COMMENTS

Advice for Future Corpses by Sallie Tisdale

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Those who know someone who is dying, or those who may die themselves one day.

In a nutshell:
Palliative care nurse Sallie Tisdale offers thoughts on both the reality of accepting (or at least acknowledging) one’s own mortality while also providing seriously practical suggestions and examples for what to expect.

Worth quoting:
“Our image of Grandpa at home in his own bed assumes that Grandpa likes his bed, that his house is safe and quiet, and that he really wants his relatives to take care of his most personal needs.”
“Sick people need to not be sick people all the time. They are also plumbers, parents, students, friends, chess players.”

Why I chose it:
Old habits die (heh) hard. I used to do planning related to death in my old job and I still find it interesting.

Review:
What happens as one dies? Not after, but before and during? And what can those of us who are supporting those people do (or not do) to make that experience less scary?

Tisdale’s book is not exactly a road map, and it is not really a memoir, either. She does use some stories to illustrate points (the experiences of three people she knows who have died are shared in different chapters), but this is not a book on the wisdom of those who are near death. No, instead it’s a mixture of how to confront one’s own mortality as well as observations from someone who has been with those who are dying and knows what to do (and what not to do).

The book follows essentially the path of death from illness, including chapters on what to do with the remains and what grief may be like. I think the most valuable chapter is the one on communication, full of dos and don’ts (mostly don’ts). If you haven’t been close to someone who is seriously ill, it’s likely you don’t know how you’ll react or what is appropriate to ask, say, or do, and this book provides some suggestions on that front.

At times this book had me confronting my own mortality; at other times it had me thinking about the mortality of those I love (especially those who are much older than me). I think it’s useful reading, and I’ll be keeping it around until I’ll need it.

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

Sunday

1

September 2019

0

COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – 1 September 2019

Written by , Posted in What I'm Reading

Racism

“Recall how cartoonist Mark Knight rendered Serena Williams with Sambo-like lips throwing a temper tantrum in a tutu after she defended what she, one of the greatest athletes of all time, deemed bad referee calls during a 2018 U.S. Open upset. Former First Lady Michelle Obama was routinely drawn as masculine and equated with being an ape in a trope planted in the American psyche by the likes of venerated Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke, an investor in the burgeoning 18th century business of trading Africans into enslavement.” When They (Don’t) See Us (by Deborah Douglas via Medium)

“I started writing because every single day I was living a half-life. I started writing because I was tired of taking in every racist joke, every insult, every assumption. I was tired of hearing the locks on people’s cars click down as I walked past theirs in a grocery store parking lot. I was tired of worrying about my brother’s safety when he went on tour. I was tired of worrying that I might die at each traffic stop. I was tired of seeing Black body after Black body lying in the street like so much garbage after an encounter with police. And I was so very tired of being silent through it all. Silence was not helping me. It was killing me.” The Thing About Safety (by Ijeoma Oluo via Medium)

Democracy

“State officials, however, confirmed at least two other machines in Calhoun County also “jumped.” One voter reported similarly voting for Waller but having the machine change his vote to Reeves. Though state officials only confirmed problems with three machines in two counties, the Waller campaign told the Ledger that it received reports of the same issue in Leflore, Lamar, Pearl River, Lincoln, Washington, Forrest and Scott counties. Reeves won the runoff with about 54 percent of the vote, The Associated Press reported.” Voters say touchscreen machines switched their votes in nine Mississippi counties (by Igor Derysh for Salon)

General Ridiculousness

“Are we to believe that arguing for the murder of a quarter of the female population is “flippant,” but calling Stephens a bedbug is an offense worthy of censure? This is someone who mocked sexual assault survivors for wanting a break room with counselors during a debate on rape culture, a writer who questioned the “moral proportion” of firing sexual harassers. Is targeting a professor’s job for a barely seen quip morally proportional? Are high-profile columnists more deserving of a “safe space?”” The Unbearable Fragility of Bret Stephens (by Jessica Valenti via Medium)

Trans Issues

“Shortcomings in the technology used by the TSA and insufficient training of the agency’s staff have made transgender and gender nonconforming travelers particularly vulnerable to invasive searches at airport checkpoints, interviews and a review of documents and data shows. The TSA says that it is committed to treating all travelers equally and respectfully. But while the agency has known about the problems for several years, it still struggles to ensure the fair treatment of transgender and gender nonconforming people.” When Transgender Travelers Walk Into Scanners, Invasive Searches Sometimes Wait on the Other Side (by Lucas Waldron and Brenda Medina for ProPublica)

Friday

30

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
People who like Liane Moriarty books.

In a nutshell:
Nine people arrive at a health retreat looking for change. They find a little more than that.

Worth quoting:
“The first was a woman … wearing an oversized, brand-new-looking whit t-shirt that hung almost to her knees over black leggings, the standard outfit for an average-sized woman who starts a new exercise program and thinks her perfectly normal body should be hidden.”

Why I chose it:
I have been waiting for this to come out in paperback and huzzah! It was worth the wait, as I picked it up at lunch yesterday and haven’t put it down much since.

Review:
Liane Moriarty has a formula – there are multiple characters, and while some are leads, there isn’t usually just one perspective shared. Usually these books go back and forth in time, but not this time. This time we get a fairly straightforward narrative from the perspective of a dozen characters, though Frances, a 50-something author, is the one we keep going back to.

Frances’s latest book has been rejected by her publisher, and she was scammed by an online love. She needs some change and so seeks it from a ten-day retreat that ends up including some questionable methods that increase in absurdity.

As always with Liane’s books there are things that you think you’ve got figured out and then she hits you with a curve. Her writing is engaging and her character development is strong here. I especially appreciated the way we got the sense of how people come across as compared to how they are feeling inside. I genuinely look forward to her books, and this one was worth the wait.

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

Wednesday

28

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

Childfree by Choice by Dr. Amy Blackstone

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
I wish everyone would read this. Parents who don’t understand why people would choose to not be parents can learn a lot about society’s misconceptions, but us childfree folks really benefit from writing that treats us as well-adjusted adults, not selfish, juvenile misanthropes.

In a nutshell:
Sociologist Blackstone looks at what it means to choose a life without children of one’s own.

Worth quoting:
I underlined something on nearly every page, and starred something especially poignant probably every three or four pages. But here are some of my favorites.

Regarding trying to get sterilized: “To feel so unheard for so many years, to be treated like a child who doesn’t know her own mind, and to be doubted by the very people who should be your advocates is demoralizing and exhausting.”

On the fact that there isn’t any evidence for such a thing as a ‘maternal instinct’: “It is much more comfortable, and comforting to others, to joke about one’s individual lack of maternal instinct than it is to suggest that it doesn’t exist.”

Discussing the definition of family: “Google the phrase ‘start a family’ and you’ll quickly discover that for many people, even today, families don’t begin until children enter the picture. This is not lost on the childfree.”

“No, we don’t all hate kids but neither should we have to justify our choice not to have them with lengthy proclamations about how much we adore them.”

Why I chose it:
I am childfree (and only met my spouse because we both selected ‘Does not want kids’ in our OK Cupid profiles) and have spent a ton of time thinking through this topic. I’m even working on a book that explores how relationships between parents and non-parents change once kids enter the picture. When I saw this book in the shop I damn near bought all the copies. Thankfully it lived up to and exceeded by expectations.

Review:
I could write a review of this book that is nearly as long as the introduction to it. Let me just say, up front, that Blackstone is both a thorough researcher AND a great writer, which keeps what could have been a dry book entertaining and interesting.

Blackstone starts the book in a place one might not expect — by acknowledging that while parenthood (and especially motherhood) is revered in US culture, there are specific groups of people who have traditionally been discouraged from having children. Basically, white middle- and upper-class women are pushed to reproduce, while people of color are judged for having children (especially more than just one or two) and experienced a history of having their reproductive rights challenged through things like forced sterilization. It’s good to center this discussion there.

She looks at pronatalism’s impact on our views of women and how by promoting the essentialness of motherhood to being a women, society then leads us to internalize the idea that women who aren’t mothers aren’t real women. This then has an effect on nearly everything, from how people are wary of women who don’t have kids to the benefits that are available to parents (such as the flexibility to leave work early to pick up a sick kid) but not non-parents (such as the flexibility to leave work early to take an ill pet to the vet). It extends to how we define family (something that really pisses me off) as only existing when a child and a parent are involved — to many people, my husband and I aren’t a family and I guess never will be since kids are not in our future.

She also focuses a lot of time on why people might make the choice not to have children, and how society views us as selfish. She compares how parents come to their own decision to have children, and points out those reasons are often just as ‘selfish,’ and concludes that we should just take that word out of rotation in this area because it serves no purpose. And of course threaded throughout is evidence of how parents and society as a whole are generally wary of non-parents and a bit judgmental about us.

Really the only area she doesn’t spent a lot of time on is how people without children can lose their friends as they become parents and their time and priorities shift, though her partner address this anecdotally in the afterword, which is written by him.

I loved this book because it made me feel seen and understood. I don’t have a ‘reason’ for not wanting children other than that I don’t want to be a parent. Much like I don’t want to be a surgeon. There’s nothing wrong with being a surgeon, and I agree society needs some, but it’s obviously not right for everyone. I wish people who look at me like I’m deficient or broken would instead realize that just as they CHOSE parenthood, I’ve CHOSEN a life without my own kids. It’s a weird feeling to know that up to three quarters of my life won’t match most of what my friends experience; this book helped me feel less alone in that.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it but also buy copies for people.

Monday

26

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

Do I Make Myself Clear? by Harold Evans

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Writing classrooms.

In a nutshell:
Longtime writer and editor Harold Evans offers lessons to improve writing.

Worth quoting:
“We are more likely to understand the argument if we know where we are heading.”
“Anything that goes wrong will always be wordier than anything that goes right.”

Why I chose it:
I’m always looking to improve my writing.

Review:
In the first few pages of this book the author speaks well of both Churchill (racist) and Kissinger (war criminal), so I did have a little trouble moving past that. I was expecting something closer to Stephen King’s ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’; instead it is closer to a good text one might find in an introductory journalism or creative writing course at University. That is, it is well-written and helpful but dry (ironic, eh?) and repetitive.

Nearly every section comes down to editing; specifically to cutting words so one communicates in the simplest way. And that is solid advice! It’s just … there are only so many ways once can reiterate the same point.

Though, to his credit, Evans does find many ways to do just that. Most chapters include sample text that he then edits to be easier to read or straightforward. I could see those samples being helpful in a classroom: offer the originals to students and have them edit them down and compare to Evans’s edits. Some chapters also include lists of phrases that are redundant, or words that are misused, which makes the book worth keeping around. I’ll add it to my writing reference stack, and look at it occasionally.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it for the reference value.

Sunday

25

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

Emerald City by Brian Birnbaum

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

Two Stars

Best for:
I cannot recommend this to anyone.

In a nutshell:
I couldn’t really tell you. I could reproduce the description from the back of the book, but I think that’s unfair to other authors whose books can be described by their readers without resorting to that. Though according to the reviews that have already seeded Good Reads it is ‘shocking.’

Worth quoting:
Here is an example of the writing that fills each page:
“He’d sooner have gotten mad at time’s perceived acceleration over life’s void of fulfillment. An illegal fraction represented best how fucked this so-called sentience was — and yet here she was, brooding over an extemporized jest.”

Why I chose it:
This was a free advance reader copy available through the Cannonball Read. I jumped at it because it’s set in Seattle (a place I called home for 10 years as an adult) and sounded intriguing.

Review:
This is either my first or second DNF (did not finish) review for Cannonball Read. I struggled with even doing this but I think if a book is offered free for review I at least owe it to the author to be as honest as I can be without being an asshole. I don’t think the review will be getting back to the author directly, and I can’t imagine he’d agree with or enjoy my criticism, but I’m offering it anyway, because that’s what we do here.

Are you familiar with @GuyInYourMFA? I believe that this book may have been written by the people those tweets satirize. Not because of the subject matter necessarily (there seems to be a female lead who isn’t described in an absurd way, and the plot isn’t just about a white man finding himself), but because of the writing style.

When I titled this review “The Writing Got In the Way,” it’s because it is genuinely difficult to read. And not in a the capital-G Great American Novel type of way that I admittedly don’t find appealing but understand serves a purpose; but because it seems like the author is trying so hard to sound complex and intelligent that it comes across as the opposite.

Do you remember the episode of Friends where Chandler and Monica ask Joey to write a letter of recommendation to the adoption agency? And Joey is worried it doesn’t sound smart enough so he goes through and replaces nearly every word with a related (though not necessarily matching in context) word? And it ends up being completely unintelligible? This book feels like 400 pages of that letter.

Multiple adjectives are included where one (or none) would suffice. Simple concepts (such as ‘a year’) become needlessly multi-syllabic (”two solstices.”) Now I will grant that there is a type of book where “two solstices” would sound poetic and lovely as a description of the movement of time; this book isn’t that one. Also, and I’m being pedantic here, but two solstices isn’t actually a year. At its shortest, it could be six months and a day. Only from the next sentence do we learn it’s meant to signify a year. So it’s oddly flowery AND inaccurate.

I went down a bit of a rabbit hole when this book didn’t show up on Amazon and learned that Emerald City is one of three books set to be released by a new publishing house this year. A publishing house co-founded and owned by the author who claims the book represents “hyper-intelligent energy” that readers are “starved for.” Hmmm. The book is meant to be released in three weeks but still has no presence on Amazon (the above link is to the out-of-print version) or Indie Bound, so I’m not sure it’s going to make it.

However, if there is a chance that the author will publish it later, my strongest advice would be to get a brand-new, completely outside editor to cut through the unnecessary metaphors and similes. Someone who can pare this book down to the core plot to allow the characters to exist. Someone who understands that ‘intelligent’ is not synonymous with ‘uses ten words when five would work.’

I don’t write fiction so I can’t imagine how hard it must be, but it seems that the author has made it even harder for himself by writing it in this way. I just couldn’t get past the first 50 pages, and so cannot recommend this to anyone.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
I offered to return it, but it shall instead be finding new purpose in the recycling bin outside my apartment.