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Reviews Archive

Saturday

16

September 2017

0

COMMENTS

Life in Motion by Misty Copeland

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Three Stars

Best for: Those who enjoy a good memoir; those who enjoy a story about someone rising to the pinnacle in their artistic field.

In a nutshell: Misty Copeland tells the story of her life, from living in southern California to being promoted to be the first African American female principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre.

Line that sticks with me: “In ballet, appearance is critical. That may seem superficial or frivolous, but in an art form that is visual, and so much about grace and suppleness, it definitely matters.” (p 108) (I am not a fan of the implications in that line.)

Why I chose it: I enjoy going to the ballet, and I’ve seen articles describing her talents in the past.

Review: I often find it hard to write reviews of books that I don’t love and don’t dislike. This book falls into that middling category, although do want to say that I think this is a fine book, and that people who are interested in learning more about Ms. Copeland’s life will not be disappointed.

It is full of candor, and benefits from having distance from many of the more difficult subjects she addresses (her childhood, the fight over where she should live). Though not all stories are in her past, as especially in the second half of the book when she shares more of her experience not just as a dancer starting many years late, but as a black dancer in a field dominated by white dancers.

I appreciate Ms. Copeland’s honesty as she navigates how to share the feelings she has about her field, especially as she is still in it. It’s possible that this book might look different if written a decade after she stops dancing – I’m thinking of how the book by Abby Wambach, who has retired, had a very different feel from the one by Carly Lloyd.

The one thing that I found frustrating, and it was a small section, was in her discussion about the challenges she faced when she finally went through puberty and found herself curvier than other ballerinas. It’s interesting to read her stand up for herself – that she should be viewed based on her skill and ability, and not punished for not fitting the antiquated idea of super-thin, white ballerina, but in the same breathe say things like the line I pulled up top. Would she support someone with as much talent, skill, and grace as her who was, say, 300 pounds? She doesn’t seem to want limits placed on herself, but at the same time seems to accept different limits that she agrees with. I have a hard time reconciling that.

As someone who enjoys ballet, I enjoyed the discussion of the work that goes into creating that art. I think to enjoy the book you should at least have some interest in ballet.

Tuesday

12

September 2017

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COMMENTS

It’s OK That You’re Not OK by Megan Devine

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Five Stars

Best for: Those who are grieving, or those who want to be better prepared to support those who are grieving.

In a nutshell: People who are grieving deserve better than what society offers them. This book attempts to provide some direction towards that.

Line that sticks with me: “We have to be able to see what’s true without fear of being seen as weak, damaged, or somehow failing the cultural storyline.” (p 54).

Why I chose it: Ms. Devine spoke at an event I attended this past weekend, and was kind enough to also sell her book to attendees prior to it’s release next month.

Review:
The book is written almost as a love letter to a friend. Ms. Devine carries such kindness in her writing, stemming from her own experience witnessing the sudden death of her partner Matt. She was a writer, therapist, and artist prior to his death, and was able to take her experience, along with what she has learned from others, to create a community (Refuge in Grief) to help others experiencing grief, and write a book that both validates feelings and provides practical tips for navigating an experience that is utterly horrible.

The through-line of the book is that grief is not a problem to be fixed. It is a new reality that the grieving person must honor and tend. People will not “get over” profound losses, and it is cruel to demand that they do. Friends and family members of those who are grieving want their old loved one back, and don’t listen or pick up on the overt and subtle clues that they are not helping. We want to help, but we want that help to lead to things being fixed, and that’s not a thing that will happen.

In my work, we have that list of things to never say to someone who has lost someone, and I see some of those phrases included here as well. Things like “they’re in a better place” or, worse, “everything happens for a reason.” Ms. Devine goes into why these phrases are so very hurtful, regardless of the fact that they usually come from a good intent. Like in so many areas of life, the harm caused doesn’t care what the intent was.

There are a million things I could say about this book. I should caveat my review by pointing out that I am not the primary target audience — I have so far been lucky enough to not have experienced real loss in my life — but I have seen enough friends living in their grief to want to know how I can better support them. While there is a section of the book that is directed at folks like me that I found immensely helpful, there is also such value in reading words directed at those who are experiencing loss. I cannot understand what they are feeling, but I can at least get a sense of the challenges they are facing and the ways our culture and society can make a horrible experience so much worse.

The event I attended where I purchased this book was Death Salon Seattle. I chose to attend in part because I think our society has a very strange and unhealthy relationship with death in myriad ways [from how some refuse to talk about it, to how others are forced to talk about it at way too young an age, to how we expect those who lose someone to ‘get over it’ ever (and usually in a few months, maybe a year tops)] and partly because my job, as some of you know, involves planning for the response to a mass fatality incident. Most days I’m doing something death-related; the Salon gave me an opportunity to look at death outside of the plans and procedures and meetings that fill up my workday.

Seeing Ms. Devine speak is a gift. She was able to tailor her talk to this group in a way that recognized that a bunch of individuals who spend a lot of time thinking and talking about death may have some very specific ways we can support those who are actually experiencing loss. This book is another gift, and one I strongly recommend anyone who is thinking this might possibly be something they need pick up.

Saturday

9

September 2017

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COMMENTS

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

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Four Stars

Best for: People looking for a little break, or need to be reminded that it’s okay to take one.

In a nutshell: The head of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen offers some ideas for how to enjoy some quiet time.

Line that sticks with me: “Basically, you want to think: How would a Viking squirrel furnish a living room?” (p 123)

Why I chose it: Honestly, the book’s cover is adorable.

Review: This is a surprisingly thick book looking at ways to incorporate the Danish concept of Hygge into life. After reading the book — which I definitely enjoyed — I think that the main idea is that we should seek to build more cosiness into our lives. Given that I live in Seattle, this is an infinitely appealing idea to me. I love curling up with a book. I love candles. I love being cozy.

I’m not entirely sure if the book is necessary; do we need 280 pages to tell us that it feels good to snuggle up under a blanket with a cup of tea or cocoa in hand? Or to tell us that it’s nice to have better, softer lighting? Or that connecting on a personal level with our close friends and family is good? No. But it’s nice to be reminded of it, and the illustrations and photos are stunning.

But seriously, the lighting ideas are fantastic. Also, I think I want to move to Copenhagen now.

Tuesday

5

September 2017

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COMMENTS

The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck by Sarah Knight

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Two Stars

Best for: People who care too much about what other people think (but also aren’t in any real danger if they think ill of them)

In a nutshell: In this parody of the Marie Kondo book, Ms. Knight provides a method for prioritizing your life (and the fucks you give).

Line that sticks with me: “Personal policies are definitely the way to go in this scenario. They are mysterious and they tend to make people a little bit uncomfortable and really shut down the conversation.”

Why I chose it: I run a blog with an expletive in the title that I hope to someday turn into a book, so I thought I’d check out another curse-word-laden choice.

Review: It’s fine. Really, the two stars is probably a bit unfair, given that I could see someone finding parts of this really helpful. If you have difficulty saying no to things, and don’t know how to prioritize your life meaningfully, I think this book can help. I’ll get to the major issues I have with it down below, but first, the good stuff.

Ms. Knight breaks down our lives into four categories: Things, Work, Friends/Acquaintances/Strangers, and Family. Within each category she asks us to write down all the things currently occupying our brain space (good and maybe not good), and then go back and cross out the things that we need to stop giving a fuck about. Things that take p too much mental space and that stem from us caring about what other people think of us.

She also is quick to recognize, however, that just doing whatever you want can make you an asshole, so she offers tips on how to avoid that in how you gently respond to requests for your time, thought, or energy in areas you’ve decided to stop giving a fuck about. For example, you might have decided to stop giving a fuck about dieting, but your friend won’t shut up about how he is eats paleo. Can you let him know you’re not interested in that topic of discussion, and do that without guilt? Possibly.

But it all goes downhill for me in two spots: the work section and the family section.

In the work section, she uses wearing sandals (against dress code during summer Fridays) as something she’s decided to stop giving a fuck about. She just wore sandals, and that was that. No consequences. And she’s right in that its generally a silly rule, and she also acknowledges that uniforms and safety issues might make her point moot. But the overall premise is that if you just ignore the rules you think aren’t worth your time, you’ll be fine. And I just want to take her editor aside and say “um, you didn’t see anything that, I don’t know, might backfire on an employee?” Ms. Knight suggests that as long as you’re doing your job well, this stuff won’t matter, but the thing is, for some members of our population, they must follow every fucking rule or some racist or sexist asshat will use it as an excuse to fire them.

In the family section, she goes full tone deaf and uses the example of her aunt and uncle talking about the validity of president Obama’s birth certificate as a means to illustrate not giving a fuck about talking politics with relatives. Can you guess the race of the author from that? Because I can. So many white people have just decided that they don’t need to give a fuck about talking about racism with their relatives because it bums them out or makes them mad, without considering the consequences of those folks continuing to live their lives with that opinion uninterrogated. I just … arg. It made be super mad, and I hope will perhaps get a serious look if the book ever gets a revision or ends up in paperback form.

Tuesday

5

September 2017

0

COMMENTS

Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud by Anne Helen Petersen

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Three Stars

Best for: Those interested in a detailed analysis of the different ways women are seen as not conforming (unless you’re interested in those who are too old – that chapter was not great).

In a nutshell: Buzzfeed writer Petersen looks at ten different women and how each can be an example of being too ‘something’ that women aren’t meant to be, and how they use that to subvert the system.

Line that sticks with me: “To call Clinton ‘too’ anything is to authenticate and fortify power, broadly speaking, as the proper province of men.” (p 158)

Why I chose it: The premise is pretty cool.

Review:
I read this book while on vacation, and so was able to consume it chapter by chapter, reading pretty much each one in its entirety. I highly recommend going that route, because each section can stand alone as its own story and analysis.

Ms. Petersen’s premise is that there are many different ways that women can be ‘too’ something for society, and that some women use that as a means to fight the systems that oppress us. Specifically, she looks at being too strong, fat, gross, slutty, old, pregnant, shrill, queer, loud, and naked, and associates one woman with each of these characteristics. She recognizes that her list is overwhelmingly white (80%), cis (90%), and straight (unclear how each woman identifies, but I’d say probably in the 80-90% range). Given that, she can’t get too deep into any one area because by picking a representative archetype of the ‘too’ characteristic, she necessarily ends up limiting herself.

But that’s not to say that each chapter only looks at the woman she chooses. Some focus more on the specific woman than others, but each does explore the broader implications of some other individuals who have faced down the condemnation around the unruly behavior (e.g. she discusses Roseann Barr in the ‘too fat’ section that focuses on Melissa McCarthy).

The chapter that I found the must anger-inducing is probably the Serena Williams one, because she has been treated so blatantly unfairly over the years, from the sexism to the racism to the misogynoir. She’s robably the greatest athlete of all time, but, y’know, she has muscles and is a black woman, so of course she gets a ton of shit. I also was a bit teary-eyed after reading the Hillary Clinton chapter (’too shrill,’ because of course); that does not bode well for when I pick up her book next week.

What I found interesting was that, for the vast majority of the sections, Ms. Petersen seems to be on the side of the woman fighting the system. She’s picked someone who is kind of like ‘fuck you, I’m going to do what I want’ to fit the adjectives, and explores how these women have done it in a supportive manner. She is a bit ambivalent in the Melissa McCarthy chapter, but even that one she does see McCarthy as generally not caring about her size in a way that sees her obsessing over reducing it. I suppose she’s also more critical in the Caitlyn Jenner chapter (’too queer’), but overall makes a strong argument.

But the stand-out exception to me is the chapter on Madonna (’too old’). In the other chapters, Ms. Petersen makes argument about how these women are fighting back and don’t give a fuck, but she takes real issue with how Madonna has chosen to represent that. Her analysis is primarily that by choosing to be so into keeping her body fit, Madonna is not rebelling against age, but simply conforming to the ideas of beauty. Which … perhaps? But this analysis doesn’t fit well with the rest of the book. I think there’s an interesting discussion to be had there – is it more harmful to fight the system by keeping one’s body fit into one’s 60s and demand to be seen as sexy, or to lessen one’s regular workouts so that one can age in a more ‘traditional’ way and then demand to be seen as sexy? I’m not entirely sure, and I don’t think Ms. Petersen is either, which is why I feel like this chapter either belongs in another book, or she should have picked a different woman to represent that adjective, given how the same analysis doesn’t seem to hold in the other chapters.

I still recommend this book despite the three stars (usually I go with four+ for my strong recommendations) as I think there is some interesting cultural commentary here.

Tuesday

29

August 2017

0

COMMENTS

As You Wish by Cary Elwes

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Four Stars

Best for: Readers who like to learn about the behind-the-scenes world of film-making but aren’t looking for salacious gossip.

In a nutshell: Sweet actor writes sweet book about sweet film.

Line that sticks with me: “But there was no hiding for Andre. When you are that big, there is no possible disguise; no way to shrink into the background.”

Why I chose it: I recall it getting good reviews in the cannonball read previously, and it happened to be on sale. Win win!

Review: Long before my husband and I got engaged, we were out drinking with two of our friends. The husband in that couple joked that he’d be happy to officiate our eventual wedding, and that he’d just model it after the ceremony in The Princess Bride. Two years later, he stood before us and 80 of our friends and families and bellowed “Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us togethew today. And wove, twue wove,” followed by “oooh, sorry, wrong ceremony.” Pretty much everyone except my mother and a couple relatives in their 70s were laughing out loud. Given that the age range was 3-70+, I’d say it shows just how deeply this film has made it into our culture.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, as I haven’t seen the film in awhile. I wasn’t sure if I’d be missing out on nuances or not be able to place the actors Mr. Elwes discusses. Ha. Yeah right. It’s all perfectly clear in my mind even without the adorable pictures that he includes. The stories he shares are just lovely, and paint everyone in a very good light. I’d question whether he is providing an overly rose-colored view of things, but I found it all convincing. I think it was a group of kind, funny people who made a terrific movie.

I chose a quote about Andre the Giant as the line that sticks with me because I found the stories about him to be the most enjoyable. He led a life that others might find challenging, but he seemed to make the decision that he was going to figure out how to live a life as a literal giant. He seemed to suck the marrow out of life (I hate that imagery but it fits so well) and also gave to so many others.

The only real issues I had with the book are that the quotes from interviews with other actors on set are interspersed in little text boxes that aren’t at an easy stopping point in the main text. So I’d sometimes get lost in a story and then have to go back and find that the text box actually related to that story. And sometimes not so much.

This was a quick read, and it made me want to go rewatch the film. (As of this writing, it seems to be available for rent on Amazon streaming, so off I go!)

Sunday

27

August 2017

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COMMENTS

Thing Explainer by Randall Munroe

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Four Stars

Best for: People looking for fun, quick explanations of common machines (like helicopters or washer/dryers) and nature (like the night sky).

In a nutshell: Creator of xkcd brings his cute drawings and research skills to a large-format book.

Line that sticks with me: None really, but I did chuckle a bunch.

Why I chose it: I thoroughly enjoyed his book “What If”  – it was one of my top books last year. So it seemed natural to pick up his next one.

Review: This is a mostly great book that takes on a some of the things that many of us probably have questions about in the physical realm. Like, do you know all the parts of your dish washer and how they work? Okay, what about a submarine? Or a nuclear power plant?

Mr. Munroe takes on these – and 40 other machines and bits of our natural world. He provides detailed schematics and describes what each bit does, using plain language. In fact, I believe he tried to use only 1,000 different words to describe really complicated processes.

And this where the book loses one star from me. I appreciate what he is going for, but especially for machines and components of the natural world that I have some knowledge of (like, for example, cells), I found it more confusing that he never used the correct terms. Like the International Space Station becomes the Shared Space House. Of a nuclear power plant becomes the Heavy Metal Power Building. I found that to be confusing and not helpful in me taking what I learn here and being able to recall it when I heard these things discussed using the proper terms.

My favorite bit was the break-down of the U.S. Constitution; I think it’s possibly the best section-by-section synopsis of that document I’ve ever read. Seriously, I think civics teachers should hand this out before they talk about that time in U.S. history.

If you are going to read this, I strongly recommend you get the hardcover version. These drawings should be seen at full size, and there’s a pull-out poster of a skyscraper in the back!

Saturday

26

August 2017

0

COMMENTS

The Anxiety Toolkit by Alice Boyes

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3 Stars

Best for: People with certain types of anxiety (but probably not everyone with anxiety).

In a nutshell: Researcher Boyes shares actionable tips for individuals with anxiety.

Line that sticks with me: “When you’re avoiding something, try identifying the next action you need to take to move forward. Do that action.”

Why I chose it: It looked readable and possible helpful.

Review: Hmm. This book is a very easy read, and it definitely has some useful tips for addressing some of the common challenges that people with anxiety face. As someone with mild anxiety, I was hoping I would find items in here that are helpful to me, but I didn’t find a whole lot.

The way the information is presented is, I think, useful. At the start of each section, the reader takes a quiz to get some better awareness about how the reader handles certain situations. This doesn’t end up changing the advice that Dr. Boyes gives; it more just serves as a way for the reader to assess how much of what is to follow is going to be relevant to their particular challenges.

Dr. Boyes focuses on five areas that she says her research suggests are the biggest hurdles for people with anxiety: hesitancy; rumination; paralyzing perfectionism; fear of feedback and criticism; and avoidance. I found the suggestions related to the fourth item to be helpful, but the other issues aren’t how my anxiety manifests itself, so while the information shared seems like it would be good for folks, it’s just not relevant for me.

Sunday

20

August 2017

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COMMENTS

Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott

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Three Stars

Best for: People who like etiquette books and who are looking for a quick read.

In a nutshell: Author continues to stretch the semester she spent in Paris into a lifestyle brand.

Line that sticks with me: “Also think (and pause) before you speak.” Seriously, I need to be reminded this daily.

Why I chose it: I’ve been picking up a lot of fairly heavy books lately. Even though I didn’t like her previous book, I felt like giving it another chance.

Review:
Books like this can be challenging to review. On the one hand, there are some great tips in here that I will be working to incorporate into my actions to improve my life. On the other, I find the writing stilted, and some of the tips needlessly conservative if not a bit classist (and, in a couple of cases, casually and likely unintentionally racist). I’m also still fascinated by the fact that these tips come from a six-month period the author spent in Paris a good decade ago at least.

The tips that will be useful, to me, are reminders around things like posture and how I interact with other people. I think the way she chooses to share those tips is thoughtful and applicable to life. And she has taken care this go round to point out that one can still carry oneself well regardless of body shape or size, or of access to funds. I appreciate that.

However. Her idea of what denotes poise wavers on the edge of being overwhelmingly white. Her examples of laudable and poise-filled films are overwhelmingly white, as is her list of celebrities to admire (save Denzel Washington). She also makes an ignorant comment about twerking. It seems as though she didn’t submit the book for sensitivity reading.

She also has, in my opinion, a misplaced distaste for cursing. I refuse to sign onto the idea that people should remove the words ‘fuck,’ ‘ass,’ and ‘shit’ from their vocabulary if they don’t want to, and I don’t believe they have any less poise than someone who says “gosh darn it.”

I think my reviews of her books are likely overly harsh because this is a genre I’ve spent so much time reading. I think that many people will find this book entertaining and useful, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Friday

18

August 2017

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COMMENTS

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

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Four Stars

Best for: People who see what is happening in the U.S. and want some quick tips on how to fight back.

In a nutshell: The subtitle says it all. Twenty lessons the guide our fight against the encroaching tyranny.

Line that sticks with me: “When exactly was the ‘again’ in the president’s slogan ‘Make America great again’? Hint: It is the same ‘again’ that we find in ‘Never again.’” (p 123)

Why I chose it: I was in a bookstore on Tuesday and saw this on a table. It looked like a book I could read quickly, and I was (and still am) really struggling with the best way for me personally to address what is happening in the U.S.

Review: Author Timothy Snyder is an expert on tyranny. His field of study is Eastern Europe history. And, according to Wikipedia, he and I went to the same school (LSE shout out!).

What I’m saying is, he seems to know what he’s talking about. And he uses his knowledge to share twenty quick tips (backed up by 1-4 pages of support) of what to look for, what to do, and how to handle ourselves as we face this administration and the current state of the nation.

A sampling of the tips: “Do not obey in advance.” “Believe in truth.” “Investigate.” “Establish a private life.” “Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.” Some of them are obvious to me ( “Be wary of paramilitaries.”); others were not as much (”Make eye contact and small talk.”). There were only a couple of times that I found myself raising my eyebrows – one when the tip seems to suggest that people who aren’t in the streets aren’t doing real work, and one that suggests that patriots agree to fight in wars. I think he believes the former; the latter may just have been the result of poor language choices.

This book doesn’t have all the answers, but it provides a good reference point for when I find myself reacting, but not sure if I want to react that way.