ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Reviews Archive

Sunday

1

December 2019

0

COMMENTS

Just My Type by Simon Garfield

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoy a bit of trivia about common things; those interested in graphic design.

In a nutshell:
A history of fonts, with a focus on some of the better-known ones.

Worth quoting:
“If all letters were exactly the same height they wouldn’t appear so: round and pointed letters would appear shorter.”
“They established that it is a lot easier to read lower-case letters than capitals when travelling at speed.”

Why I chose it:
I love this kind of shit.

Review:
There’s not a ton I can say about this book that isn’t just be sharing interesting trivia I learned. Like, as referenced above, researchers have determined that it’s better to put location names on road signs with upper case starts followed by lower case letters. It’s because one looks for the shape of the word, not the individual letters. And so can spot the shape they’re looking for before they can read the word.

Do you find that nugget of information interesting? Then this book is for you.

Author Garfield takes us on a trip that isn’t so much chronological as focused on subject areas. He shares the history of some well-known fonts (starting with Comic Sans!) and why they come to be. He also looks at issues like: do fonts have a gender? A nationality? Do they evoke a time period to you?

He also shares some of the more technical things about fonts. For example, what makes a font easier to read online makes it more difficult to read on paper and vice versa. Which is super annoying for me in my work, as I produce many documents that need to be readable in both formats.

This is a fairly niche book but it’s also accessible. If you’re looking for a gift for someone who you think might enjoy this type of thing, they probably will like this one.

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

Sunday

10

November 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
People who want essays that critically explore politics and pop culture while making you laugh your ass off.

In a nutshell:
Author Lindy West follows up her Bestseller (and TV show!) Shrill with this book of essays exploring the Trump era, the Me Too movement, and many other aspects of political and pop culture.

Worth quoting:
“We need to start calling things by their real names: racism is racism, sexism is sexism, mistakes are mistakes, and they can be rectified if we do the work.”
“Watching otherwise rational human beings rhapsodize about [Ted] Bundy’s ‘charm’ and ‘brilliance’ while furrowing their brows over Elizabeth Warren’s dubious ‘likability’ creates a particularly American kind of whiplash.”
“Both sides, inasmuch as there are two ‘sides,’ are not equally stupid or equally bad. The notion that they are is human-extinction-level dangerous.”
“…if you are a person who is unable to access abortion for any reason, your state is total disenfranchisement and your right to life has been stripped from you.”

Why I chose it:
West is a fantastic author.

Review:
There’s something wonderful (dare I say magical?) about the way Lindy West writes. She can cut to the chase quickly while also providing hilarious analogies and examples to illustrate her points. She shares parts of herself that she doesn’t owe to anyone as a way to personalize stories. She takes a critical eye to things that maybe one has been thinking about and nails down the exact components one should be taking away from them. And she writes like a person might actually talk! Her asides are hilarious, and I can definitely picture her saying many parts of these essays in conversation with her friends.

The first essay of the book is the inspiration for the title – the US president’s insistence that he is the subject of a witch hunt. West explains why that is absurd, but turns the concept around, claiming that we are witches, and we are the ones doing the hunting. Hunting down horrible, dangerous political leaders, manipulative and rapey Hollywood figures, the patriarchy.

I love it.

The essays range in topic from her love of the movie Clue, to a critical exploration of Adam Sandler’s films and what they say about what white men aspire to / get away with, abortion access, the ridiculousness of South Park’s ‘both sides are equally bad’ rhetoric, and so much more.

She even went to one of GOOP’s events!

I think my favorite is the one where she explains why she left Twitter. It sums up so much of what is deeply wrong with that social media platform (among others) while also acknowledging the ways it can be so important to different groups. I also enjoyed her takes on other pop culture folks I grew up exposed to, such as Adam Corolla and Joan Rivers – they were genuinely different and interesting to read.

I did not know this was coming out – I saw it mentioned in passing somewhere and immediately purchased it. There were only four copies available on Amazon UK, so I’m thinking maybe it doesn’t have a distributor here yet? Anyways, if you’re overseas, keep checking, and maybe ask your indie booksellers if they’re planning / able to carry it.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
As with Shrill, which made the trip across the ocean when I moved here from Seattle, I will Keep it. And also buy copies for friends. Maybe give it as Christmas gifts.

Sunday

3

November 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Mass Strike by Rosa Luxemburg

Written by , Posted in Politics, Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People interested in the history and politics behind mass strike movements.

In a nutshell:
Philosopher and Marxist Luxemburg provides a history of the mass strike in Russia, and outlines how it could work in Germany (I think?).

Worth quoting:
“The plan of undertaking mass strikes as a serious political class action with organised workers only is absolutely hopeless.”

Why I chose it:
It was this month’s pick for a book club I’m in. I know some of the politicians many of my peers (and at times myself) support identify as socialists; I realized I don’t know much about the history of socialism, communism, or anti-capitalism. This book club I’m in is exploring more of that history.

Review:
Since moving to the UK I’ve become much more aware of worker rights in general and unions in particular. My partner is the head of a union branch and is working to actively organize people in his industry. I’ve been a member of a union long ago but am not currently in one. I’ve also supported strikes – I participated in the Women’s Strike in March of 2017, though that one had some issues.

This small book provides a history of strikes up through about 1910, then talks about how it might work in Germany. I think. I have to admit that I have a hard time following some of this writing. There are terms that clearly mean something specific when discussion worker actions and socialism but I don’t quite understand them. I’m looking forward to the book club discussion taking place later this week so I can get a better sense. However, I think the main point is that strikes can work but they cannot be limited to just organized labor. Maybe?

Ugh, there’s so much I don’t know.

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

Tuesday

29

October 2019

0

COMMENTS

How to Resist by Matthew Bolton

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone looking for some practical advice to help make meaningful policy change.

In a nutshell:
One of the Living Wage Campaigners and the Executive director of Citizens UK offers tips on building targeted social movements based on the success – and failure – he has experienced as a community organizer.

Worth quoting:
“Be intentional about what kind of change it’s worth our while putting your time into: what’s achievable, and how you could influence those decisions.”

Why I chose it:
A work colleague had some extra copies from what she’d ordered for an event.

Review:
I love a good, practical book. Especially when it’s a book that can help bring about change.

Author Matthew Bolton knows about making change. He’s helped organize successful campaigns to get companies — and Parliament — to adopt the Living Wage so people can actually survive by working just one job (imagine that!). He recognizes that there are many things we as citizens may want to change, but he is also pragmatic. A big protest is a great show of force, but to make change you have to be intentional and pick very specific actions that you want your elected officials or company leaders to make. It’s not enough to protest about, say, global warming (though that kind of disruption obviously has its place); to be effective it helps to have specific policy proposals as well as a collection of individuals who we can call upon to lend their support.

This is an easy read, with case studies illustrating how the suggestions play out in practice. It includes step-by-step processes, and tips for making sure you take care of yourself along the way. It’s a small book and only 150 pages, so its accessible. I look forward to putting what I’ve learned into action.

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

Saturday

26

October 2019

0

COMMENTS

An Opinionated guide to London Architecture by Sujata Burman, Rosa Bertoli and Taran Wilkhu

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
People visiting (or living in) London who want to see a variety of examples of good / interesting architecture around the city.

In a nutshell:
Wallpaper* (note, I hate that the magazine title has an asterisk, as it make me want to add a line at the bottom of this review resolving the asterisk) journalists and architecture photographer provide just over 50 examples of London architecture. Mostly buildings.

Worth quoting:
“Why do we change our minds about what’s considered good?

Why I chose it:
I finally made it to the viewing platform of the Tate Modern last week, and they were selling this book up there at a little kiosk. Didn’t actually realize it was a guide book. But it looked cool.

Review:
Reviewing niche guidebooks is a challenge, because they usually don’t have loads of text. This book has just enough for me text-wise, though I could have used more on the photo end. Up front the authors provide a one- or two-sentence description of different architecture styles, along with a couple of pages about architecture in London in general, and how what people find attractive or good can change. They then offer three pages of walking tours,followed by descriptions of the 54 structures included in those tours.

Each structure has just one or two paragraphs describing it, along with the standard guide book information (address, opening hours, if it’s free to get in,etc.). Each structure also has at least one photograph; a few have more. And I know this is primarily a guide book and not a photo book, but since I bought it thinking it was the later, I was a little disappointed. But the photos are great quality.

Most structures can be visited for a fee (or free!), but some are only accessible during London Open House, which sadly just passed last month. I’ve added next year’s dates to my calendar so I don’t miss it.

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

Saturday

12

October 2019

0

COMMENTS

An Edited Life by Anna Newton

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People looking for another guide to organizing their lives.

In a nutshell:
Author Newton offers detailed suggestions for organizing one’s life.

Worth quoting:
Not quotes per se, but there are definition a bunch of suggestions that I’ve underlined and will be incorporating into my life.

Why I chose it:
I’m a sucker for a organizational book, especially one that’s visually attractive.

Review:
I do love me a good home and life organizing book. As I’ve probably said before, at this point its usually good not for wholesale overhauls of how I run my work and home life, but I always get some interesting tips. I’ve been reading enough of these books to have my own opinions about suggestions that may or may not work (and at this point I pretty much always skip money/budget sections — YNAB or GTFO). Usually there are also whole sections about organizing related to children or pets, but the author has neither, is open about that, and so doesn’t venture into that area.

I enjoyed Newton’s conversational style – the overall tone was less user manual and more blog, and I mean that in the best way possible. Organizational books can lean too far into dry tips, or conversely feel overly familiar or even emotional. Newton strikes a good balance there. I don’t think there was anything life-changing (no immediate Marie Kondo-ing my house), but lots of little things that might help improve the daily business of living.

I have to end with the first thing I said when I picked up this book and started flipping through it. It has fairly tiny type, is a tall book, and runs over 250 pages. “An edited life? Maybe start with an edited book.” It’s a dad joke but it applies. It’s pretty to look at, but I did at times have a hard time actually reading the book, because there is color text, and that color is pale blue. That is not easy on the eyes; by the end there were whole sections that I just couldn’t read without straining, so I just skimmed.

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

Wednesday

2

October 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Written by , Posted in Reviews

4 Stars

Best for:
Those who have read (or watched) The Handmaid’s Tale.

In a nutshell:
We know that Gilead eventually fell. But how?

Worth quoting:
“The truth can cause a lot of trouble for those who are not supposed to know it.”
“Another girl’s disgrace could rub off on you if you got too close to it.”
“They said calm things like ‘You need to be strong.’ They were trying to make things better. But it can put a lot of pressure on a person to be told they need to be strong.”

Why I chose it:
I read The Handmaid’s Tale a few years ago, and have watched two seasons of the show (I live in the UK and can’t figure out how to watch season three).

Review:
This book is told from the perspective of three people: Aunt Lydia; a daughter of a Commander (Agnes); and a teenager living in Canada (Daisy). Each have different experiences of Gilead – Aunt Lydia helped create the way women experience it, Agnes is being raised to become a child bride to a Commander and is fully steeped in the Gilead belief system, and Daisy has parents who are helping fight Gilead from afar.

Aunt Lydia’s section includes the story of how she became involved in Gilead, and I found her sections the most interest to ponder from an ethics perspective. What would each of us do in those situations? Some will fight to survive so they eventually fix things, some will fight to survive so they can acquire some power in the new word; others will see no possible option except to fight until their own death.

I also found Agnes’s sections fascinating. We don’t get the perspectives of the children in the first book (that I can recall), so I appreciated learning a bit about how it all worked in practice. Daisy’s story was the least interesting to me, but her chapter were still compelling.

The writing in this is excellent as expected (the Schlafly Cafe made me lol), and while I think this is a satisfying book and even a necessary one, it didn’t quite match my hopes. But my hopes were quite high.

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

Monday

30

September 2019

0

COMMENTS

Educated by Tara Westover

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
People who generally trust Barack Obama’s judgment on books.

In a nutshell:
Tara Westover was raised in a devout Mormon household, with an overbearing father who wouldn’t allow her to go to school. She finds a way to college, and learns about so much that has been hidden from her before.

Worth quoting:
I listened to this one, so nothing stands out, but the writing is great so I’m sure there are many choice phrases.

Why I chose it:
This book seems to be everywhere. I’ve picked it up and put it down at least a dozen times; I finally got the audio book to listen to while running. Good choice.

Review:
I don’t think I was expecting a book this intense and dramatic. Tara Westover is one of seven (I think) kids, raised in Idaho by her parents: a faith healer and a scrapper / contractor. The family believes in a very devout form of Mormonism, though Westover makes it very clear up front that she does not attribute her family’s action to being religious. This isn’t a book about religion being good or bad; it’s about how the decisions parents make affect their children. How withholding education and creating a bubble can cause so much harm.

Westover doesn’t have a birth certificate. She spends her entire youth being homeschooled, except she isn’t really taught anything that doesn’t come from the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or her mother’s holistic ‘healing.’ She’s not vaccinated, and she doesn’t take an ibuprofen until she’s in her late teens. She works around heavy machinery. But she also has interests and desire outside of the mountain that is her home.

I appreciate that the book isn’t about a need to get a college education – it’s about needing the opportunity to learn about the world from more than one person. We don’t all need college degrees, but we do need to be exposed to different ideas, to be able to form opinions about the world and our place in it. I also appreciate how Westover explores the traumas of her youth. She has a physically abusive brother and parents who refuse to intervene, and she has to wrestle with what that means for her and her continued relationship with her family.

It’s a deeply personal, intense, and interesting story, and despite the specifics being things I doubt many of us can relate to, there’s still something in there that we can all take away.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
If I’d bought a physical copy I’d pass it to a friend.

Thursday

12

September 2019

0

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

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.