ASK Musings

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Reviews Archive

Monday

10

June 2019

0

COMMENTS

How to Be a Footballer by Peter Crouch

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Four Stars

Best for:
People who enjoying playing or watching football, especially the men’s game, especially the English Premier League.

In a nutshell:
Professional football (soccer) player Peter Crouch offers a glimpse into the lives of professional players, including what goes on in the changing rooms, what it’s like to be traded (sold) to another team, and why so many seem to buy such … interesting cars.

Worth quoting:
“You should probably be able to absorb the pain of an opposition goal without needing to wave two finders in the scorer’s face…We all like goals. And if it’s a goal you personally do not like, you can be certain that someone with the same primary leisure interest as you will be absolutely loving it.”

Why I chose it:
I like a good football (soccer) biography, and this one had the potential to be especially entertaining.

Review:
What a lovely surprise this book was! I love football (or, as I grew up calling it, soccer). I’ve played since I was a kid, and last year joined a women’s league here in London, so I train every Tuesday (and one Friday a month), and play in matches on Sundays (and some Saturdays) from September through April. It’s a lovely camaraderie as well as a way to stay fit and keep my brain going as I try to improve. I’m also going to the Women’s World Cup (tomorrow!), where I’ll watch the US Women’s National Team play each of their group stage matches, and then return for the semi-finals and finals.

I have read and reviewed a couple autobiographies from players for the US Women’s National Team, but they were fairly straightforward sports bios, whereas this one is more a collection of humorous observational essays. And, because I didn’t grow up watching the England men’s premier league (or much men’s international football at all), there are a lot of references that I don’t get. However, that didn’t take a way from the book. Sure, there are a lot of players and moments (say, an amazing goal) that are mentioned, but there is enough context within each chapter to get the general gist.

Crouch played for a few teams in the English men’s premier league, as well as for England’s men’s national team. You might recognize him as the extraordinarily tall, very lean, striker. Seriously, the guy is 6’7”. Damn. He currently plays for Burnley, and has played for Aston Villa, QPR and Liverpool in the past. But this book isn’t so much about that. I mean, it is – he talks about his experiences working under different managers, and traveling with different teams. But each chapter is about a different aspect of a footballer’s life, and it doesn’t follow any traditional trajectory. Any given chapter might refer to his time in the youth league, or at a World Cup. He doesn’t talk much about his wife or kids — this is a book about football.

And it’s funny! I don’t know how better to put it than that. Yes, I think you need to have a passing interest in the sport, but Crouch is a genuinely endearing, funny guy who can make an already entertaining story even better. He’s just the right amount of self-deprecating, and he’s also willing to point out when he thinks something is just silly.

I mean, come on:

The only bummer for me is that at no point are any of his examples of amazing plays or players women. Yes, obviously he’s played only with men, and only in men’s leagues. But he doesn’t limit his anecdotes to just things he’s directly experienced or people he has played with; he references loads of players and moments that took place before he was playing. Is there really no goal a professional woman footballer has scored that is worth a mention? Not Carli Lloyd’s hat trick at the World Cup Final in 2015? Not Abby Wambach’s headers? It’s just disappointing.

Still, I recommend this book if you like football and you like to laugh.

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Pass to a friend

Sunday

2

June 2019

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COMMENTS

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

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Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone whose life doesn’t fit the script. And anyone whose does, but insists that other’s lives fit as well.

In a nutshell:
Keiko is 36, single, and has been working in the same convenience store since she was 18. Family and friends want her to get another job, find a husband, and maybe have a child.

Worth quoting:
“When something was strange, everyone thought they had the right to come stomping in all over your life to figure out why. I found that arrogant and infuriating, not to mention a pain in the neck.”
“The normal world has no room for exceptions and always quietly eliminates foreign objects. Anyone who is lacking is disposed of.”
“People who are considered normal enjoy putting those who aren’t on trial, you know.”

Why I chose it:
It’s been on display everywhere I go lately, so I finally picked it up. Glad I did!

Review:
Keiko doesn’t fit into what society expects of women. She works part-time in a job that others look down upon, she doesn’t date, and she doesn’t have many friends or interests outside of work. She makes people uncomfortable because she doesn’t have the same life goals as others – she has no interest in sex, she doesn’t want another job. She studies others so she can fit in better, but overall she’d just be happy if people let her be. But of course, people don’t, including a misogynistic jackass who starts – and quickly leaves – work at the same convenience store.

This is a short book, but it packs a lot into it. Author Murata uses an interesting and different character – one who it might be hard to initially relate to – to make a bigger point about life and what we expect from it for not just ourselves, but others. I get a taste of it at times because I am not having children; some people with children often seem to not entirely know what to do with me once they realize that I’m not going to change my mind. And on a more serious level, I see this playing out in my home town of Seattle, where people who aren’t fulfilling what others view as their duty (namely, to somehow miraculously figure out how to find a home with money they don’t have) are viewed as a drain on society. There’s a life script, and people who follow it (usually people who, I would argue, are unhappy they had to follow it) can be utterly cruel to those who either can’t, won’t, or don’t want to.

Obviously this is complicated by the fact that the thing that seems to make Keiko happy is working in what so many people think of as a soul-crushing job. I saw one review that considered this a horror book. And perhaps part of it is. Or perhaps the author picked something that it would be hard for so many of us to see as a positive to challenge us further. Either way, I’m into it.

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Keep it

Monday

27

May 2019

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COMMENTS

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshefegh

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Two Stars

Best for:
People looking for a well-written, fairly quick read of no consequence, whose characters are all unappealing, especially the protagonist.

In a nutshell:
Orphaned rich woman (no name given, which I didn’t realize until I went to write this review) decides the way she wants to deal with her life is by sleeping. So she find a doctor who is willing to prescribe her all manner of sleeping pills.

Worth quoting:
‘It’s not about the men,’ she said. ‘Women are so judgmental. They’re always comparing.’
‘But why do you care? It’s not a contest.’
‘Yes, it is. You just can’t see it because you’ve always been the winner.’

Why I chose it:
I have picked this book up in shops probably a half-dozen times. Now that it’s in paperback I finally decided to get it. I’m glad, if only because my curiosity is well-sated.

Review:
This was a quick read, for sure. But I did not enjoy it. When I finished it, I wondered what I’d missed. Was this satire – a mocking of all those sort-of coming-of-age books written by white men about young white men? No? It’s just a character study? Huh.

Author Moshfegh is talented, for sure. The book is easy to read, the scenes evocative and well-thought-out. I have a strong picture in my mind of every place described, and a real feeling about each place. But the overall idea of the book, the main concept, the plot, just didn’t work for me at all. As it moved along I sort of got a bit of why the protagonist was doing what she was doing. I think?

Was she depressed? Probably. But was that what was fueling her desire to sleep? Or was she just ill-equipped for the world? Honestly? I didn’t care. Was I supposed to care? Unclear. Like I said, I might have missed something, but maybe not. Maybe it just wasn’t my thing. Entertainment Weekly said “One of the most compelling protagonists modern fiction has offered in years” and just … no. I disagree.

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Toss it

Saturday

25

May 2019

0

COMMENTS

Skylight by José Saramago

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Four Stars

Best for:
Fans of books that look at many different characters(as opposed to just one or two protagonists).

In a nutshell:
In late-1940s Lisbon, six apartments contain a variety of tenants searching for something more in their lives — or searching for ways to keep their lives the same.

Worth quoting:
“She knew men too well to love any of them.”
“I have never lied so much in my life and I hadn’t realised how many people are prepared to believe lies.”
“His brain attached itself to all kinds of things, went over and over the same problems, plunged into them, drowned in them, so that, in the end, his own thoughts became the problem.”

Why I chose it:
My favorite book is Blindness, which José Saramago published in 1995. A friend bought it for me (having never read it himself) and it turned into the book I gave friends if I stayed with them. Maybe an odd choice, but whatever. I think it’s a fantastic book. I read the sequel and wasn’t as into it, but still, Saramago can write. Last year we went to Lisbon for our anniversary and visited Casa dos Bicos, which is home to the Saramago foundation. I saw his Nobel Prize for literature. It was amazing. They also had a bookshop, and this book stood out to me because it was one of his first books but was only published after his death.

Review:
CN: Brief discussion of marital assault

Early in his career, Saramago sent the manuscript for Skylight to a publisher. Early, as in, he sent it in 1953. The publisher didn’t get back to him. In 1989, someone at the publishing house found it and asked if they could publish it. Saramago said no. In fact, he said it couldn’t be published until after his death.

Although this book is set in the 1940s, it could be set in the 2010s. Obviously there are no mobile phones, and people listen to the radio or play games in the evening, but nothing about the stories feels dated or old fashioned, which is, to me, a pretty amazing sign of Saramago’s ability to write people, regardless of time or space.

That’s not to say that time and space don’t play into this. Some of the people in this book are a bit of a throwback (in my mind at least), such as the man who has a wife and daughter and prides himself on being the head of the household in a way that I consider pathetic. There is the mother, her sister, and two daughters all living together because the family has come on hard times.

The neighbors are connected in some ways, and disconnected in others. One couple takes in a lodger who stays up late discussing life with the husband. Another is a woman living alone in an apartment kept by the man who employs her as a mistress; he also employs another tenant as an office worker, which creates some drama. There is the couple whose daughter died and who cannot stand each other the the point that he sexually assaults her (in fairly brief scene that challenges the reader). There is the woman who is attracted to other women but doesn’t know what to do with those feelings.

And the women don’t exist just to further along the plots of the men. We get to hear from them, get their points of view, experience their lives. As part of the time, many of those lives are intertwined with or dependent on men, but they clearly have their own goals and dreams and perspectives. The writing of them isn’t perfect, but it’s mostly well done.

I was a bit worried to pick this one up because I love Blindness so much. What if it was a fluke? What if Saramago’s writing only spoke to me the one time? Especially as I didn’t entirely enjoy the follow-up? But not to worry – this was nearly as good as Blindness for me. Radically different in plot, but still an interesting exploration of human life.

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Keep it

Monday

6

May 2019

0

COMMENTS

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

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Four Stars

 

Best for:
People looking for hard facts on how the lack of data collected about women harms us.

In a nutshell:
Much of ruling society treats (cis) men as the default, dismissing the needs of women as abnormal. This screws us over.

Worth quoting:
“Like so many of the decisions to exclude women in the interests of simplicity, from architecture to medical research, this conclusion could only be reached in a culture that conceives of men as the default human and women as a niche aberration.”

Why I chose it:
I wanted some hard facts to support something I was already generally aware of.

Review:
I really struggled with picking up this book. Normally I wouldn’t because the topics is right up my alley. It’s non-fiction. It’s written by a woman. It talks about sexism. It focuses on statistics and data. That’s my jam! Except the author is a problematic feminist and I hate that she is the one who wrote this book, because she has a real problem with the idea of cis women (she wants to be called woman by default, not a cis woman, necessarily othering trans women. Oh the irony). Which means this book never once gives even a sidebar mention of the fact that some of the data gaps she is focused on are even worse for trans women. She also quotes a transphobic woman (Sarah Ditum) in the first few pages. I wish she were a better on this, but here we are.

The fact is, she has written an interesting and easy-to-read book that should piss everyone off. From data gaps about unpaid care work and women’s contributions to the economy to the fact that women metabolize and react to medications differently than men (but are often barely represented in studies — if they are included at all), she looks at the literally hundreds of ways that society places the needs of men in general above the needs of women in general, and the impact it has on how we navigate the world.

Obviously this requires some generalizations. For example, many of the areas focus on women’s role as caretaker, specifically as a mother. I’m not a mother and never will be, so I don’t fit in that realm. But I recognize that overwhelmingly most women will at some point have a child, so I appreciate that not taking that into account will harm many, many women.

Some were areas I’d been aware of before, though not in this level of detail. But other things were light-bulb moments. Early on in the book she talks about the planning of public space and public transportation, and some of the revelations were, looking back, obvious, but also so insidious as to not have occurred to me before.

The focus on the average man’s life experience as the default informs so many decisions in our world, and that means women get left out, left behind, and actively harmed. And the solution is to collect — and the use — more data, but there’s a problem there, as the gatekeepers for things like funding scientific studies are overwhelmingly dudes, and they don’t see the need for studying women-specific issues, or even disaggregating data by sex or gender.

There aren’t easy solutions that corporations and governments are just going to accept and implement. My biggest take-away from this is to be alert to any new studies I read that generalize about people, and to be an outspoken advocate to ensure that new initiatives at the government level have taken into account the lives not just of men, but of women, as well as people in other demographic groups.

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Keep it.

Sunday

28

April 2019

0

COMMENTS

Midlife by Kieran Setiya

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Three Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoy a philosophical approach to things, and those who are approaching middle age.

In a nutshell:
Philosopher Kieran Setiya, as he approached mid-life, decided to explore ways philosophy might help him power through — or even stave off — a crisis.

Worth quoting:
“I recognize the luxury of the midlife crisis, with a degree of guilt and shame. Why can’t I be more grateful for what I have? But this is my life.”
“There is consolation in the fact that missing out is an inexorable side effect of the richness of human life.”
“There is no more to going for a walk than what you are doing right now. You are not on the way to achieving a goal. You are already there.”

Why I chose it:
I’m turning 40 next year and I enjoy studying philosophy.

Review:
This fairly short exploration of mid-life is lightly humorous and well-written. Author Setiya is approaching 40 and has started to feel what many do when they approach mid-life: a sense of malaise. As he is a philosophy professor, he is, one could argue, fairly well-suited to explore the larger questions around life and what it means as we continue into the second half of our lives.

And I think he is. This is a largely successful book if one is looking not so much for all the answers, but for some ideas of how to change one’s thinking about this time in life. Setiya looks at the big issues that crop up around middle age: regret / paths not taken; fear of death; and wondering what to do next when you’ve completed most of the standard life projects.

The section on regret is interesting, as it forces a rational approach to the issue. Namely, that even if you could start over and do things completely differently, that would mean wiping out who you are now. Do you really want that? Do any of us? Sure, it’s understandable to spend some time wondering about different choices, but you can’t do anything about it. I found this section … not that helpful for me. I don’t have large life regrets or anything like that (though I’ve gone back-and-forth on career choices basically since leaving university) but I don’t think I followed Setiya’s process here.

The fear of mortality section was also a bit of a challenge for me, as his main point seemed to be (if I’m understanding it) that we shouldn’t focus on not being around after death because we weren’t around before birth, and they’re ultimately the same thing. There’s also something here about putting more emphasis on the future than the past, but I had some trouble following it.

The section I found most helpful was the one dealing with the challenges of what happens when you’ve met most of the life goals society sets out for us. For me, that included going to university, meeting a life partner, and buying a home, all of which I’ve done. What happens after that? What about all the other projects we work on, that are also bound to finish (like, hopefully, my book)? What do we do then? Setiya’s suggestion is we focus on all the things that are not bound by a start an end, instead looking at the process. His example is enjoying a walk for the walk’s sake. Not because we are using it as a means to an end. That is a way of thinking that I could definitely incorporate into my daily life.

Overall, would I recommend it to my peers? Eh, probably not, but mostly because I think it’s a little heavier on the philosophy than they’d like.

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Friday

26

April 2019

0

COMMENTS

No. More. Plastic. by Martin Dorey

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Three Stars

Best for:
People looking for concrete steps to take to reduce plastic consumption individually and at the societal level.

In a nutshell:
The man who founded the two-minute beach clean-up offers tips for plastic use reduction.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
I saw this in a shop while on a vacation near the sea, so it seemed like an appropriate (and quick) read.

Review:
Just over a week ago the Extinction Rebellion actions stepped up in London. The bridge by my office was occupied for a week; trains were affected, streets were blocked, and peaceful protesters engaged in civil disobedience to try to get politicians to pay attention to the serious issue of climate change and human impact on the environment. That was near the top of my mind when I came across this book. I’m doing a fairly good job with my carbon footprint; I don’t eat meat, I’m not having children. I no longer own a car, and when I did, both my partner and I still walked to work or took the bus. We do, however, live 6,000 miles from where we grew up, which means we do take long-haul flights once or twice a year.

And we also use plastic. It’s ubiquitous plastic is, especially here in the UK. The thing that baffles me the most is that nearly every bit of fresh fruit or vegetable is wrapped in plastic. Cucumbers are shrink-wrapped. Zucchini are wrapped three to a pack. Heads of lettuce aren’t that common; bags of lettuce, however, are everywhere. Broccoli crowns are shrink-wrapped. Avocado are in plastic trays. It’s BANANAS. I agree with the author here when he says it is gobsmackingly ridiculous that it is legal to sell food in packaging that cannot be recycled.

This book offers a bunch of ideas (some extremely practical, some not so much) and steps to take to reduce plastic consumption. Some I’ve done recently – buying a glass reusable water bottle and reusable coffee cup for my commute – but others are things I need to do. Each of the 30 tips are discussed in detail across one or two pages, but there is a checklist at the back so readers can keep track of their progress.

The reason this book only has three stars is it seems written in a vacuum that doesn’t acknowledge the impact of some of these suggested changes on people. For example, this guy is gung-ho on eliminating plastic straws. Now, this isn’t a thick book, nor does it contain much of a narrative. But it’s well-documented that flexible plastic straws are a necessity for some disabled people. Same for wipes, which are other things Dorey says we need to give up (or at least not flush). It would be good for society to find alternatives for people who need them, and educate people who DON’T need them to STOP USING THEM. But othering disabled people by making the request them separately or incur the added cost of buying them isn’t a solution I’m okay with.

Another suggestion is to avoid supermarkets and go to direct sources that use less packaging, like greengrocers, butchers, bakers, etc. Great idea. But if those are spread out across town, that’s a large time-suck for some people who may not have the time to give. And what about the added carbon of driving to multiple locations?

And then there’s this: “Shop as usual but leave all the packaging at the till and let the supermarket know why you’re doing it.” I’m sorry, what? You want the staff person who is likely not paid a great wage to have to clean up the mess you make with your purchases? No. Don’t do that. Talk to the manager. Get lots of people together to talk to the manager. Buy things that are not packaged and don’t buy things packaged in plastic. But don’t put it on the lowest paid staff member to deal with your actions.

It’s complicated, and makes me think about the end of Season 3 of The Good Place – things are complicated, and it can be hard to make the best, most ethical decision. And sometimes an individual doing something means very little if there isn’t a larger plan of action associated with it.

But sometimes it isn’t that complicated; sometimes you really can pay more attention and make better choices. I think, on the whole, the book is one way to help me do that.

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Keep it

Wednesday

24

April 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Life of Stuff by Susannah Walker

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Four Stars

Best for:
People who find meaning in true stories, quality narratives, and learning about the human condition.

In a nutshell:
Author Susannah Walker’s mother was not always there for her. Upon Patricia’s death, Susannah sees that she’s been hoarding, allowing her home to fall into disrepair, and takes it as a chance to try to get to know her mother’s story.

Worth quoting:
“There had to be thousands of daughters like me who didn’t have a proper relationship with their mothers, but we would never be able to speak up and find each other, because the world was our policeman, always judging us.”
“So much of what my mother accumulated — all those plastic bags and envelopes of junk mail — didn’t have any significance of their own. Their job was to bury the objects that did, to prevent the terrifying misery of the past from ever being discovered again.”

Why I chose it:
I was in a bookshop in a new city. Obviously I was going to get something. I’d also been looking for a book with a more narrative voice but didn’t have any fiction in mind. This was a perfect fit.

Review:
Author Susannah Walker studied and worked at one of the most interesting (in my opinion) museums in the world – the V & A in London. She’s fully aware of how we as a society choose to collect items as a way to better understand — or at least keep alive — our histories. So it makes sense that she would approach her mother’s death and hoarding in the way she did: through her mother’s things.

Each chapter begins with an illustration of an object from her mother’s home, and includes some text that you would expect to see next to an item in the museum. That object then frames the discussion of the chapter. We start with Patricia falling in her home and being taken to the hospital, then Walker receiving a shaming phone call from a police officer. Her mother seemed to be improving enough to leave the hospital but couldn’t return to her home which was, in addition to being filled with items, in disrepair, with a broken and open back door, no running water or functioning toilet, and mildew and dampness everywhere. As Walker worked to convince hospital staff that a nursing home would be the best next step, Patricia died, leaving Susannah to sort through what remained.

Patricia and Walker’s father divorced with Walker was young, and she and her brother went to live with their father, only seeing their mother occasionally. They weren’t fully estranged though; Walker still spoke to Patricia regularly, and met up with her for lunch. But they were not close, as Walker always felt unloved. How could a mother sort of abandon her child? And how could a grown child not see that her mother was in such a condition that lead to this hoarding?

Walker takes the opportunity to explore her mother’s life as she sifts through her belongings, and it’s ultimately a sad life, full of loss. As Walker peels back the layers in the house, she also peels back a bit more about her mother’s life, learning more about events in the distant past. Walker lost a sibling on the day she was born; her mother also lost a sibling. Divorce spans generations of the family, and loss seems to be everywhere.

Some of the best parts of the book were Walker’s research into hoarding and how society chooses to classify and exploit the stories of hoarders. She points out that so much focus is on the brain chemistry of hoarders and not nearly enough on what really precipitates their actions: namely, often, a profound sense of loss.

Walker is an engaging writer and storyteller; I was on holiday and read the book over the course of just three days. I didn’t want to put it down. Not because there was anything especially urgent, but because I cared about Walker and her mother and all the people who have experienced loss and found themselves acting the way Patricia did. And I felt for everyone who has complicated relationships with their parents, especially when that parent has died, leaving the relationship unresolved. I’m not keeping it only because I don’t imagine I’ll want to reread it, but I will donate it so someone else can experience it.

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Donate it

Sunday

21

April 2019

0

COMMENTS

Bullsh*t Jobs by David Graeber

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Three Stars

Best for:
People interested in labor issues and economic theory.

In a nutshell:
Some jobs don’t serve a purpose. They’re usually paid fairly well, but they don’t need to exist. Why do we as a society allow these jobs to exist, and what are they doing to the people who hold them?

Worth quoting:
“We can probably conclude that at least half of all work being done in our society could be eliminated without making any real difference at all.”
“The underlying assumption is that if humans are offered the option to be parasites, of course they’ll take it. In face, almost every bit of available evidence indicates that this is not the case.”
“How does it come to seem morally wrong to the employer that workers are not working, even if there is nothing obvious for them to do?”

Why I chose it:
It looked kind of interesting. And it was! Kind of.

Review:
There is a lot going on in this book, and while the author tries to make it accessible and interesting, it sometimes falls a bit more into the academic text realm than I’d prefer. Additionally, despite the academic appearance, so much of the data supporting the theory is qualitative, which isn’t bad per se, but there isn’t enough quantitative support for the broad statements Graeber offers.

The book grows from an essay on the topic Graeber wrote a few years back for a labor magazine. The premise is that there are many jobs out there that don’t actually need to exist, but do, and at times even pay quite well. He’s interested in exploring not only what this does to the workers who hold these positions, but what it means for society that we all just allow these jobs to exist. Capitalism suggests that such positions will be eliminated as inefficient, but still they persist. Why is that?

Graeber takes us through a quick history of labor in exchange for money, spending a fair bit of time on the concept (relatively new, apparently) that our bosses / companies are paying us for our time as opposed to our work. The idea of not being able to do something personal when you finish your work but are still ‘on the clock’ would have been odd until fairly recently, according to the author. But now we see people having to create work that doesn’t exist to fill their time.

The author spends the first chapters of the book developing a definition of bullshit jobs, which I appreciate. These aren’t shitty jobs, as those ones so ofter serve a purpose. No, these are the jobs that perhaps are middle management, or ‘box tickers.’ He ultimately offers five different categories, and support for them using anecdotes from people who contacted him after his original essay was published.

I want to have gotten more out of this book. I definitely appreciated his argument, especially as it relates to the idea that we all could be working less but our values won’t allow it. But I didn’t finish it feeling as though I had much that I could do. I have to admit to skimming the last chapter where that information would be; at that point my eyes had started to glaze over. I don’t think the book is bad, but maybe it’d be better placed in a serious book club or a course on labor studies.

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Donate it

Friday

5

April 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Secret Barrister by Anonymous

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Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone interested in the English criminal justice system.

In a nutshell:
An actively practicing barrister shares what goes on in the English justice system, and offers suggestions of ways to fix it.

Worth quoting:
“Early guilty please equal cheap guilty please. It does not follow, of course, that early guilty please equal correct guilty please.”
“Defense legal aid, and the effective adversarialism that it permits, doesn’t simply protect the defendant; it protects the public by keeping the prosecution, and the court system, honest.”
“In many respects, the released innocent is worse off than the released convict, the latter of whom will at least have a measure of institutional assistance with their reintegration.”

Why I chose it:
I’ve seen this book prominently displayed in nearly every bookshop I’ve visited. I’ve enjoyed similar books related to the healthcare field, and thought this might be an interesting switch.

Review:
I know very little about the England / Wales justice system (which is not the same as the Scottish justice system or the Norther Ireland justice system). I’ve seen Mark Darcy defend Pussy Riot dopplegangers in British Jones’s Baby, and I watched a few episodes of that show where Gillian Anderson was a detective and the guy from 50 Shades of Grey kept killing people. But as someone born and raised in the US, there is a huge blank space where any knowledge of English justice might be.

Given that, this book was a fantastic was to fill in that space. Less ‘here’s an interesting story from my day as a barrister’ (which, side note, I finally kind of understand the difference between a barrister and a solicitor!) and more ‘let’s walk through the trial system from start to finish,’ this book is an examination of how the English adult criminal justice system is meant to work, how it works in reality, and what should be different. It is written by an anonymous — though active — barrister, who I suspect is a man (more on this in a moment) but who is dedicated to exposing how the system fails pretty much everyone, including the accused and the complainants.

The overarching theme of this book is that it is in EVERYONE’S best interest to have a well-functioning criminal justice system that protects the rights of the accused and looks after victims in an honest way. Areas I found especially interesting — and that might run counter to what some people think — were the ones that looked at the dangers of putting victims first in the way England currently does. One question that comes up a lot is — if you were falsely accused of a crime, what protections would you want in place to ensure you were treated fairly? The Barrister’s argument is that this is where we should focus, because, as most people agree, if we need to balance the two, it is better for society if someone is wrongly freed than wrongly imprisoned.

The book is laid out as the progression of a criminal case, although it doesn’t follow just one all the way through. The first chapter introduces the players, which, again, is extremely helpful to those of us not from here. (Seriously, I feel like they should issue a copy of this book with each residency visa.) From there, they cover charges, bail, prosecution (including the lack of sufficient funding), the problems with current Victim First thinking, legal aid / paying for defense, a look at the adversarial vs. inquisitorial systems, sentencing, and appeals. It’s exhaustive but not exhausting (unless you count how exhausting it is that funds keep getting cut because elected officials don’t fully grasp the issues).

My one big complaint is that two of the cases the author chose to illustrate things are sexual assault, and I think they were the wrong choices. One was an example of someone who was probably guilty not being convicted, and that one wasn’t as problematic. However, that was then followed by the use of a false accusation of sexual assault to illustrate a deep miscarriage of justice. The author swears up and down that they fully understand how rare such false allegations are, and that the more likely scenario is someone who is guilty not even being charged. But they still chose this instead any of the hundreds and thousands of other crimes that have horrible incorrect convictions. This is what makes me think the author is a man; I don’t think a woman would have been so cavalier in her choice of example.

Setting that frustration aside, I think this book is well worth a read, and one I will be recommending to all my friends who are new to the UK or are just interested in better understanding the UK criminal justice failures.

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