ASK Musings

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September 2017



Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner

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Three Stars

Best for: Someone looking for a quick read that has only a marginally absurd premise

In a nutshell: Journalist Cannie Shapiro deals with many different issues, kicked off by the fact that her ex is writing a magazine column about her.

Line that sticks with me: Nothing stood out enough to underline.

Why I chose it: I became aware of Ms. Weiner because of the chapter about her in Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud and thought it’d be fun to check out her work. Starting with her first book.

There is so much to enjoy about this book, and one storyline that dropped the rating for me. I’ll talk about what I loved first (mild spoilers below).

I’m 6 feet tall and technically overweight (per BMI, which I know is bullshit, but whatever). I’ve never purchased a button-down shirt that I can actually get to close across my bust. What I’m saying is, as far as her feelings about her appearance go, I could certainly relate to Ms. Shapiro. The scene in the weight loss clinic was so wonderfully written that I was practically cheering when the nutritionist went running.

I also enjoyed the bit of fantasy fulfillment that occurs in her relationship with the movie start Maxi Ryder. Maxi is such a sweet person who becomes a true friend to Cannie, that I was fine with some of the more absurd things that happened as a result of that friendship.

I also enjoyed that Cannie was a strong women in her work life. She wrote the stories she wanted, she didn’t take shit when she was brushed off, and she managed to write a screenplay that gets picked up. And I appreciated that she was complicated – just because she was able to get shit done at work didn’t mean she had everything else worked out.

But what I didn’t like was how she spoke of her mother’s relationship with her mother’s partner, Tanya. I get that other reviewers have thought that it was more about Cannie being upset the loss of her old life, but it was so heavy-handed that I found Cannie to be quite homophobic. Especially when she dismisses her (then) boyfriend’s comments about how it’s not cool to be responding this way as being too “PC.” I’ve mentioned before that I have zero tolerance for people who use the term “PC” as an insult. I’m not sure if Ms. Shapiro was trying to be edgy, or didn’t know quite how to give Cannie a personality flaw so she would be more complex, but making her homophobic (and repeatedly revisiting that) was a hugely off-putting.

I don’t think Ms. Shapiro meant that, and I’ll look to see if she’s addressed it in other interviews or essays. If not, then I’m probably done with her work. If so, then I might check out another book of hers.



October 2016



Catching Homelessness by Josephine Ensign

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Three Stars


This is 2.5 stars for me, but I’m giving it three starts because of the first 150 pages of the book. However, I think the title is misleading, because this is much, much more about the true story of Ms. Ensign’s experience working in a clinic that served low income and homeless individuals in the mid-late 80s. That story is interesting, well-written and raises some great questions, but it is not the story that I think the blurb and the title suggest. Some spoilers below.

The first 150 pages or so are fascinating. Ms. Ensign opens this clinic with a grant, and runs it as the sole clinician. She is also the wife of a Christian who is pursuing seminary school, so she also has these expectations put upon to her to be a ‘good southern Christian woman.’ Reading about her patients, as well as her own awakening to what she wants in her life (spoiler alert: it isn’t to be with her husband) brings up so many great questions to pursue further. At one point the church becomes even more involved, reprimanding her for her counseling style with women who become pregnant out of marriage and people who have AIDS.

Ms. Ensign does end up without quality housing, but I find it odd that she doesn’t talk about that much. She lives in a storage facility on a camp her parents own, and apparently also lives in her car, but most of that is mentioned in passing. It feels almost like she ran out of steam, or felt that she didn’t want to reveal too much about that time in her life, yet the book was supposedly meant to be the insight of someone who has both served the homeless and experienced homeless herself. It just feels that the connections are missing. Especially because at one point she is working three jobs and then miraculously can just decide to turn one of those jobs into full-time work so she can have health insurance. And then … she moves to Seattle. We don’t learn why, or how that happens, or even when. It just feels so disjointed for the last 50 pages or so, and that bums me out. As this is Ms. Ensign’s first book, I think part of the blame lies with her editor.

Homelessness is such a huge issue in cities right now, and there are so many competing ideas about the root causes and the ways to support the individuals experiencing it, so I had such high hopes that this would be discussed deeply in this book. But it just wasn’t. And this seems like a huge missed opportunity.

Ms. Ensign now teaches at the University in my town, and is instructing students in the school of public health. In fact, this book was chosen as the one that incoming master’s students will be reading this fall. Unfortunately, there is an odd two- or three-page stretch of what I view as anti-feminist judgment of sex work (and the unironic use of the words “politically correct” as though that is a bad thing, which pisses me off) and those who provide non-judgmental health care to sex workers, so I’m saddened that young folks will be reading this book and being exposed to that thinking.

It is possible my opinion will change after book club this week, and if so, I’ll come back and amend this review, but for now, I just can’t recommend this book.



August 2016



New Adventure

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Tomorrow is Friday, and I don’t have to go to work. If you know me, then you know that isn’t that odd; for the last few years I have worked a flex schedule. By working eight nine-hour days and one right hour day, I could have every other Friday off. Most of the time those Fridays involved chores, movies, and seeing friends.

A few months ago, Austin and I talked about how I didn’t really have enough time or energy to write. Not enough time to work on my book proposal, and not enough time to put together other essays, or pitch articles. So we agreed I would ask my boss for a reduced schedule.

My boss knows I write. She is supportive, which is awesome. She hesitated at my proposal of an 80% schedule, but gave the go ahead to 90%. So starting this week, I work 36 hours, and get every Friday off. It’s only an extra four hours, but coupled with evenings on occasion, this will give me the chance to get even more into my writing. To really try to make a go out of it.

I’m lucky we can afford to cut about 5% on our income to let me try something different. I’m also proud if myself for trying to get my life to match more what I want it to be. I didn’t know working FL time but only four days a week was an option; I’m pretty stoked to make it work.

Of course it means i have to REALLY focus at work the days I am there, but knowing I have three days off coming up will make that pretty easy to do.

Fingers crossed this works out!



April 2016



I Know What I’m Doing and Other Lies I Tell Myself by Jen Kirkman

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Three Stars

This is comedian and writer Jen Kirkman’s second book, and it’s quite nice. It’s not a comedy book, but a collection of essays and stories about her life. She’s divorced, she’s childfree, and she has an unconventional job. Hopefully it goes without saying, but you don’t need to be any of those things to find her writing relatable and charming.

If you listen to her podcast “I Seem Fun,” you’ll find that some of the stories are familiar. But definitely not all, or even most. There is plenty here for those who are new to her work and those who have been following her for years. My favorite moments in the book are when she says things that I wish I could say but haven’t yet reached the point where I can. She’s not defensive to or offended by certain comments; she just wants folks to know that they are wrong in their comments about her and her life choices. It’s awesome and freeing.

If you haven’t read her first book, I recommend starting there. Then read this. Then start following her on Instagram and twitter (if you like to see her be brutally honest with condescending anti-feminists), and listen to her podcast. And if you’re really lucky (like I am), you can even catch her on her book tour.



August 2015



Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Charles R. “Butch” Farabee, Jr.

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Four Stars

Climb the Walls

I’ve just finished a week-long family vacation spent about 10 minutes south of Yosemite National Park. The first day we went into the valley, my husband and I hiked about 7 miles, and stopped into a few of the little stores. Everywhere we went, this book was on the shelves. If you’re familiar with any of my favorite books, it shouldn’t surprise you that this book caught my eye.

Off the Wall is a well-written, fascinating, long (nearly 600 pages) book that covers all of the unnatural deaths that have taken place within the park since the white men dropped down into the Yosemite Valley. It’s a delicate balance of sharing stories and tryng not to make every person (other than those who died by suicide and homicide) sound, well, stupid. But it’s hard, because man, people do some really dumb things in national parks.

Fewer than 800 people have died traumatically within the whole of Yosemite since the 1850s. Many did things like stepped over the railing onto slippery rocks at the waterfall to get a better picture, or went hiking without good clothing, map, and compass, or overestimated their rock climbing ability. Some were victims of freak accidents, like the constuction truck with failed breaks that crashed into a car and buried the occupants with hot asphault. And others chose to make Yosemite their final resting place after they decided they didn’t want to be in the world anymore.

I started reading this on Tuesday evening, and just finished it on Saturday morning. So much of it is just intriguing, and it was difficult to put it down. I appreciate that the authors have real experience in this area and weren’t just doing a retrospective study – one of them served in Search and Rescue within the park and was involved in many of the attempted rescues outlined in the book. But they also did some fantastic research, getting details from local papers from the 1800s. I also appreciated that they treated the killing of the original inhabitants (the Native Americans) by white men as murder.

A couple of times the book felt a little condescending, and some language they chose to use (like referring to undocumented immigrants as ‘illegals’, or how they described suicidal people) is so outdated and insensitive that it took me out of the book on occasion. But overall, if you want to be both educated on the ways your fellow man and woman can screw up, as well as inspired by the ways park employees try to save these folks, this is a good book to check out.