ASK Musings

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Books Archive

Thursday

18

October 2018

0

COMMENTS

L’art de la Simplicite by Dominique Loreau

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Two Stars

Best for: People interested in some fun home and beauty tips (but only if you skip the section related to health and food, because it is awful). If you’re really interested in a fun minimalism book, just get the Marie Kondo one.

In a nutshell: French author has ideas on how to live a minimalistic life, mostly borrowed from her view of Japanese culture.

Worth quoting:
“Life is far more enjoyable when we cultivate the habit of losing ourselves in our own thoughts: this is a precious gift that brings great happiness.”

Why I chose it:
I love shit like this (usually). I like organizational tips.

Review:
This book is equal parts useful and dangerous. On the one hand, Loreau offers some great points about being present in the moment, about minimizing our possessions, and about the need to focus on one thing at a time. Given the fact that I’m currently writing this review while listening to a podcast and eating breakfast, I can obviously use some help on the latter at least. If that were the entirety of the book, then this would probably be a three-star book for me.

But it’s not. Loreau also jumps into the discussion of physical and mental health, and hoo boy, does she get it super wrong. I mean yes, of course, less sugar is probably a good thing (for most, but not all, people), but her obsession with getting the reader to want to be slim (skinny) is just bizarre. There’s a whole section of affirmations focused on this idea, as though one cannot be fat and happy or “overweight” and healthy. It’s insulting. And if someone had a history of body image issues or disordered eating, it could be triggering.

And then there’s her flippant ideas about mental health and human relationships. She literally says that we should “swap our therapy sessions for a case of champagne.” The fuck? She also thinks we should never be critical of others or complain. Her solution is we should write a lot (good!) but never share our writing. Yes, I’ve seen and understand the thinking of, if you’re upset with someone, writing them a letter to get it all out and then burning the letter. But this feels different. I think that if Loreau were in charge of the world, there would be no negative or critical analysis of anything.

So, this book failed as a Brain Candy read because it wasn’t just fun and fluffy. But I chose it for that, so I’m stuck with it.

Monday

15

October 2018

0

COMMENTS

Wicked by Gregory Macguire

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Two Stars

Best for: People who like fantasy. So, apparently, not me.

In a nutshell: It’s billed as the back story of the wicked witch of the west. Instead it’s a convoluted mess of a book that I could not follow.

Worth quoting:
“Galinda didn’t often stop to consider whether she believed in what she said or not; the whole point of conversation was flow.”
“I don’t dress for your approval, boys.”

Why I chose it: I initially tried to read the Audrey Hepburn book Alabama Pink reviewed, but after about 80 pages it still felt like homework. I thought this would be a fun read.

(Narrator: It was not.)

Review:
I think this solidifies my thought that Alabama Pink and I would not have belonged to the same book club. I absolutely hated the Cannon Book Club pick by Craig Ferguson (seriously, it’s so bad), and of the remaining dozen books to review for this square, none really caught my eye. I tried the Audrey Hepburn biography and it was as dry as a desert and just as monotonous. I realized that Wicked was an option, and given how popular the musical is, I assumed this would be a fun, interesting read.

Sadly, I assumed incorrectly.

I think part of this is because I just don’t enjoy fantasy that much. I don’t like having to learn a new vocabulary, or new worlds. Having to memorize the geopolitical landscape of a fictional world just isn’t generally my favorite thing to do. So clearly this isn’t the book for me.

I also think that it isn’t particularly strongly written. I mean, I’m sure my opinion is wrong, and someone out there could explain to me how it is factually a masterful book, but clearly I missed something. In fact, when I finished, I went back to read the Wikipedia entry about the book, and holy shit. Plotlines were discussed that I didn’t even recognize.

Books shouldn’t feel like chores. At least, I don’t think they should. And I don’t mean they shouldn’t be challenging, or tough, or interesting. I’ve read many books that are slow reads, that I need to concentrate on deeply, and that have many layers to explore. But those books don’t feel like things I’m trying to get through so I can get to something better. Sadly, this one did.

Monday

1

October 2018

0

COMMENTS

Fear by Bob Woodward

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: I’m not sure. I guess, anyone from the US who wants a little bit more of the story?

In a nutshell: A bunch of people who have worked in (and possibly still do work in) the White House tell their tales of a completely inept President and some horrifying policies.

Worth quoting:
“In the car, Trump described his advisers, ‘They don’t know anything about business.’”
“Trump gave some private advice to a friend who had acknowledged some bad behavior toward women. Real power is fear. It’s all about strength. Never show weakness. You’ve always got to be strong. Don’t be bullied. There is no choice.”

Why I chose it: This seemed like a sad, appropriate choice for the BINGO category, and also something I should probably read.

Review:
Meh. I don’t think this book was that interesting. I mean, from a historical perspective, it’s an important book. And the fact that the journalist was able to gather such detailed insight into this presidency and administration is amazing and necessary.

But it’s not a good read.

It’s basically like reading a diary. There’s no real through line at all. I guess maybe that’s what happens when you write the story while it’s still unfurling itself? The main point is that Trump is just woefully inadequate and obviously completely unqualified to do much of anything, let alone run the government of a nation of 350 million people. Also, he’s a racist. And very, very lazy. And a great example of why you don’t want a business leader running the government.

There! You don’t have to read this.

A couple of complaints I have, and why I chose the title to this post that I did. Obviously Bannon was a source, as was Porter. You know, the white supremacist and the wife beater. And I get that they had insider information that Woodward wanted to tell the story; there were just moment throughout the book where I almost forgot what horrible people they are. And while some people might think that’s a good thing, to get the full story, I think that’s a bad thing. Because I think we need to recognize that everything Bannon does is colored by his white nationalist views. His motivation is clear, but other than his introduction and a couple of sections on ‘globalization,’ it could be easy to forget what a horrible person he is. And I’m not okay with that.

Additionally, the last chapter focuses primarily on Mueller, and seems to be arguing that Mueller has nothing (at least, that’s how I read it). It obviously comes directly from Trump’s attorney Dowd, who is trying to portray himself positively. Whatever, it’s not surprising that someone might have some selfish reasons for communicating with Mr. Woodward. But what frustrated me was his repeated claim that Trump “doesn’t have time” to participate in the Mueller investigation. A claim that isn’t refuted, but is clearly wrong. Trump DOESN’T DO ANYTHING. I mean, he does a ton of horrible things *cough* Kavanaugh *cough*. But it doesn’t take him any time at all. He doesn’t even start his day until 11 AM. He’s golfed something like 200 days that he’s been in office. He has plenty of time.

As I said, the book is likely very important, but you’ve probably gotten as much out of it as I have if you listened to the evening MSNBC shows the week it came out.

Friday

21

September 2018

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COMMENTS

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: Young adults.

In a nutshell: Lara Jean writes letters to boys as a way to get over them. Somehow, they get sent. Yikes

Worth quoting: “It’s funny how much of childhood is abut proximity. Like, who your best friend is is directly correlated to how close your houses are; who you sit next to in music is all about how close your names are in the alphabet. Such a game of chance.”

Why I chose it: The Netflix version of the book has been getting great reviews, so I figured I’d check out the book. After accidentally ordering the German-language one, I finally got my hands on it in English this week.

Review:
*Minor spoilers*

A few months ago, my mother and I were talking on the phone and she shared that while she was cleaning up in my old room, she ran across a letter I’d hidden in a book. It was apparently something I’d written in middle school, and was to a boy who I don’t know anymore, but who I definitely remember having a crush on. She said she didn’t read it, but who knows. Regardless, when she told me about it, laughing, I told her to shred it. I was MORTIFIED.

Guys, I’m 38. That letter was written at least 24 years ago. Even typing it out now, I’ve got slight butterflies in my stomach, because it would have been humiliating had it ever gotten to its intended recipient.

Which is all to say – holy shit, does Lara Jean handle herself amazingly well when the letters she’s written get out. Luckily, none of the guys she sends them to are total assholes, which I guess helps. But still, I think the biggest take-away from this for me is that she doesn’t just immediately disappear into herself; she takes back what control she can to try to fix the situation. I think that sends a good message to readers.

As far as the film is concerned, I think the changes they made make sense, but it’s odd to see Josh with so little screen time and Peter with so much. Also, I did not picture John Corbett as the dad, but he does a great job. The ending is a bit more Hollywood than the book, but again, I get it. They had 100 minutes; they made it work. If you had to pick one or the other, I’d say it’s about even for me, but I think the book every so slightly wins out.

Saturday

8

September 2018

0

COMMENTS

Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: People who enjoy an interesting mystery set in a different country (unless you’re from Iceland, in which case, people who enjoy an interesting mystery).

In a nutshell: Ari Thór is about to finish police school and has been offered a posting in a very small, very northern town in Iceland, starting right before winter arrives. Someone has died, and he suspects murder. But the rest of the town isn’t so sure.

Worth quoting:
“She was a prisoner of her own prosperity, here in this spacious detached house in a quiet neighbourhood, where people paid to cut themselves off from the world’s problems.”

Why I chose it: I visited Iceland this summer (it was amazing and I can’t wait to go back), and of course had to buy a book while I was there.

Review:
I read this book in a day and then immediately went online and ordered the other four books in the series. So, there’s that.

I enjoy a good mystery — I’ve just never really known where to go to find one. A couple of years ago I got into Stephen King, but I’m not big on supernatural components, and wasn’t sure when it was going to pop up in his writing, so I’ve mostly stopped. I used to read John Grisham books (more thriller than mystery, I guess) when I was younger, but haven’t picked one of his up in years (is he still writing?).

For me, this is a good mystery. There are a lot of characters, but not so many that I can’t keep up with them. There are some red herrings, but they aren’t ridiculous. However, I’m not sure if there is enough there that one could actually figure out exactly what really happened, so while the reveal is satisfying for sure, there is a very little bit that one might suggest comes out of left field. Regardless, it was an enjoyable read for me.

As I’ve made clear (https://cannonballread.com/2018/08/im-annoyed-you-all-made-me-read-this/), I don’t read nearly as much fiction as non-fiction (I just checked, and I’ve read 100 fiction books since starting with Cannonball Read 5, and 297 non-fiction books), and generally I don’t pick books with male protagonists. I also am leery of male writers, as the women they write (if they include them at all) are often superfluous to the story, or outright offensively stereotypical.

Mr. Jónasson’s writing didn’t fall into that category for me, thankfully. While his main character is a young man, there are women who feature prominently in the book. They don’t all exist just to satisfy or move forward the men in the book. Because of Jónasson’s writing choices, many of the women get at least one point-of-view chapter, and I think he does a good job of creating an interesting community of characters that I wanted to learn about.

Thursday

6

September 2018

0

COMMENTS

Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: People who enjoy good writing about medical issues. NOT for those who get squeamish reading about surgical procedures.

In a nutshell: Surgeon Atul Gawande (you probably know him from Being Mortal; I think my favorite of his is the Checklist Manifesto) shares stories about his time as a surgeon, exploring the reality that surgeons are humans and make mistakes.

Worth quoting:
“In the medicine, we have long faced a conflict between the imperative to give patients the best possible care and the need to provide novices with experience.”

Why I chose it: I can’t believe I haven’t read this yet – I thought I’d read all of his books. So when I sorted my Goodreads list for this CBR10 I was shocked to see it on there. I worried I’d start reading it and realize I’d read it before, but nope. It was new to me!

Review:
First off – CANNONBALL! My sixth since I started with CBR 5. Ah, how the time flies.

I enjoyed this book. I think it could have been better organized, but any time I get to read Dr. Gawande’s writing, I know I’m going to learn something and I’m going to enjoy reading it. He’s so talented, it seems unfair – a surgeon who can also write, and write well?

This book explores, through three distinct parts, the challenges of medicine that arise because humans are humans who need to learn and who make mistakes. The first section looks at learning and mistakes, the second at trying (and sometimes failing) to solve medical mysteries, and the third focuses on indecision.

The book starts off intensely, with Gawande sharing how he learned to put in a central line. It’s quite graphic, and does a great job of getting across the point that we all know somewhere in our mind (or every Thursday night when we watch Grey’s Anatomy): that doctors have to learn somehow. And usually that means performing on patients who are sick and injured. As patients, we want the best to treat us and our families, but the best only get there by practicing, which means that at some point we’re going to get the worst.

The second section, on medical mysterious, explores the frustration of healthcare professionals and patients when there is something wrong but we don’t know the cause and don’t know how to fix it. Like, for example, the woman who had nearly uncontrollable nausea for her ENTIRE PREGNANCY. Basically, what the Duchess of Cambridge had, but apparently it never stopped. I just … ack.

The final section is a reminder of the fact that sometimes, doctors just don’t know exactly what to do. The last chapter illustrates this amazingly well, with a woman who either has cellulitis or flesh-eating bacteria, and the doctors — and the patient — need to make a decision on the path forward. It looks at how much should doctors be directing care and how much should patients be? How do you find a compromise that respects the choice of the patient but also the knowledge and experience of the doctor?

Like I said, it’s an interesting book. It’s not a five-star read for me mostly because the chapters aren’t as well-connected as they could be. But it’s a strong four, because it’s Gawande.

Thursday

30

August 2018

0

COMMENTS

Between the Bridge and the River by Craig Ferguson

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Two Stars

Best for: Others seem to like this, and I don’t want to insult them or their taste, so I’ll just say — I’m not sure who it’s best for, but it sure as shit isn’t me.

In a nutshell: The lives of loathsome men and superfluous women intertwine in a weak, ridiculous, and boring novel.

Worth quoting:
Nothing. Nothing is worth quoting, unless it’s in an effort to point out how sexist and / or racist Mr. Ferguson’s writing comes across to me.

Why I chose it:
You all. You did this to me. I was not going to participate in the November book club, but I’m attempting to do a blackout BINGO, so I had to read it. I’m not pleased. I’ve not disliked fiction this much since those free Cinderella revisited books we got to review a few years ago.

Review:
No wonder I had trouble finding this book in Mr. Ferguson’s home country. They’re really doing him a favor by pretending this book doesn’t exist. I ended up buying it via Audible, and listened to it on long runs so I could experience it in chunks. I took some notes on my phone as I ran, hoping that perhaps I’d be able to write that it started slow but ultimately won me over.

Nopety nope nope.

The plot itself is, I suppose, interesting. Maybe? I don’t know. I rarely read fiction, and I think the last fiction I chose with a male main character was The Martian three years ago, which I enjoyed. Generally speaking, though, I got enough exploration of the male experience in high school English. And this book certainly didn’t make me any more interested in seeking out male protagonists or anti-heroes.

There are few women in this book, and they all exist to serve the men. Even the most fully-formed woman, Claudette, is basically just there to help George figure some shit out. It’s frustrating and sexist. Mr. Ferguson is not good at writing women, and that is pissing me off again as I write this review, so I’ll just leave it there.

I also struggle with authors who make their characters so repugnant that they use slurs and are all universally bigots. Can it really be considered a thoughtful character choice when all of your characters are shitty bigots? I started to wonder if Mr. Ferguson just wanted an excuse to use racial slurs / crappy accents / racist descriptions of people. That seems unfair to Mr. Ferguson, but also, perhaps it’s something he should think about?

Finally, the thing that I think bothered me the most is that the simple act of “being fat” is apparently the most awful, disgusting, and evil thing Mr. Ferguson can think of. Saul is fat, other people are fat, and Saul is described as disgusting. This ventures over to ableist near the end, when Saul seeks healing (he’s now also in a wheelchair), and is told he can’t be healed because “that’s who he is.” Now, perhaps Mr. Ferguson meant something else, but I heard it as suggesting that if you’re fat and in a wheelchair, you’re a bad person. And I’m super not okay with that. I’m not okay with any of this lazy writing, but this got me so pissed I almost gave up on the book, but I only had a little bit left.

I’m flummoxed that this is the book that the CBR folks thought we all should read and discuss this fall. There are a bunch of different little side stories that theoretically could be considered interesting, but overall I was super bored, and when I wasn’t bored, I was pissed. Clearly I’m not the target audience, but I am having such a hard time figuring out what is appealing about it.

Wednesday

29

August 2018

0

COMMENTS

Not Working by Lisa Owens

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: Anyone looking for a quick read that is linear but written in a slightly different style.

In a nutshell: Claire has quit her job without another lined up, in an effort to find something she wants to do.

Worth quoting:
“When I had a job, I used to fantasize about what I’d do if I didn’t have to work anymore. Go to the gym every day, get really fit, train for a marathon perhaps. Finish Ulysses, and read Moby Dick and one of the big Russian guys. Get to grips with the economy, also modern art.”
“You know, not everyone can be a hero, or live the dream — we just need to contribute what we can. Pull our weight, earn a living. There’s no shame in that.”

Why I chose it: The paperback cover (in the UK at least) is striking and made me pick it up. Then I read the back and knew I had to read it.

Review:
Have you ever read the first chapter or so of a book and seriously wonder if it’s your own memoir? That is to say, have you ever related so hard to the circumstances in a novel that you’re slightly bummed because now you can’t turn your own story into a novel because you’ll be sued for copywrite? That’s kind of how I feel about this book.

Claire has quit her job. She doesn’t enjoy her work, and wants to take time to actually sort out what she wants to do. She has savings, and has a mortgage on a flat with her boyfriend (a doctor trainee), so she’s obviously in a position to do this. But she doesn’t know where to start. She doesn’t have an obvious passion, or any real sense of what she wants to be doing with her life. She has some skeptical friends (most of them seem unsupportive – something I couldn’t relate to), and a mother who isn’t speaking to her.

The story is presented across a few chapters, but nearly every few paragraphs has a little sub-heading. It’s an interesting device making the book read more like a diary. It’s a convention that I think is challenging to do well, but Ms. Owens pulls it off well.

I enjoyed Claire’s comments and attitude and flaws because I could see myself in much of her. I, too, quit my job earlier this year. It was a necessity — we moved across the world — but I wanted to do it because it isn’t a field I wanted to be in. And I’m still sort-of working in that field (less than full-time), and still haven’t been able to sort out what I’m going to do long-term. I’m lucky enough that we can afford me not working full-time at my previous salary, and it does feel a bit indulgent to be able to go to the gym at 10 AM on a Monday because I don’t have to have my butt in an office chair at 8 AM. So reading someone who is in a somewhat similar position to me was almost cathartic.

But even if I couldn’t relate so hard, I still think I would have highly enjoyed it. If you’re looking for a fairly quick read that still has some heft in terms of the relationships explored within, I think you’ll enjoy this one.

Tuesday

28

August 2018

0

COMMENTS

When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

(Joint review with Austin as part of the Cannonball Read 10 BINGO)

Best for: Those who enjoy deeply personal memoirs.

In a nutshell: Black Lives Matter founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors shares the story of her life so far, including her work as an activist, artist, and founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Worth quoting:
“For us, law enforcement had nothing to do with protecting and serving, but controlling and containing the movement of children.”
“My father attended schools that did little more than train him to serve another man’s dreams, ensure another man’s wealth, produce another man’s vision.”
“What is the impact of not being valued?”
“No isolated acts of decency could wholly change an organization that became an institution that was created not to protect but to catch, control and kill us.”

Why I chose it: I enjoy memoirs, and I feel like I don’t know enough about the woman who started the Black Lives Matter movement.

Why Austin chose it: I picked this book because Black Lives Matter is a huge cultural touchstone in our nation’s history and I wanted to learn more about one of the founders of the movement.

My Review:
At times over the past five years, it can seem that Black Lives Matter spontaneously erupted out of the anger at police violence against Black men, women and children. But BLM didn’t just appear from the ether; it was created by three Black women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, and Opal Tometi. These women have stories that deserve to be shared, and this book provides insight into the lives of one of these women.

The subheading “A Black Lives Matter Memoir” might suggest that there will be a heavy emphasis on the time in 2013 when the movement began. And that definitely gets coverage, but this book is more about Ms. Khan-Cullors’s life and how that leads to the movement. She shares so much of herself — her pain, her joy, her love, her anger. Some memoirs scratch the surface and present something that feels a bit false. Not here. Ms. Khan-Cullors is vulnerable, and poetic, and unapologetic. She describes experiences that no one should have to go through, making it clear that these experiences are not unique to her.

This book contains so much more than its 250 pages suggest. The writing is fantastic, in a style I am not used to. I’d almost call it flowery, but that implies the words are superfluous. It’s not that. It’s almost lyrical, poetic and times. Ms. Khan-Cullors (with co-author bandele) covers interactions with the police (her own interactions, and interactions her families and friends have), what it is like to have a parent in prison, what it is like to have a sibling with mental illness who is tortured by the prison system. What it is like to not be heard, and what it is like to find a way to fight back.

Austin’s Review:
What struck me most about this book was how open she was about her entire life. She talked about her sexuality, her difficulties with her family, and the ongoing issues with police. Khan-Cullors has had a more difficult life than most, yet she was able to come together with friends to build the most recognizable social justice movement in decades.

Reading this book made me re-evaluate my own life and choices in a deep and serious way. What are my values and how much am I willing to dedicate my life to them? I thank Ms Khan-Cullors for what she’s done and what she’s been willing to share with everyone about the way it’s all come about. I highly recommend this book if you’re at all interested in social justice movements.

Sunday

26

August 2018

0

COMMENTS

Faces in the Water by Janet Frame

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: People who enjoy her style of writing, I’m guessing.

In a nutshell: Istina is mentally ill and being ‘treated’ at an in-patient facility. For nine years.

Worth quoting:
“Later, the same nurses will become impatient with their charges; but at first they are full of sympathy.”
“Few of the people who roamed the dayroom would have qualified as acceptable heroines, in popular taste; few were charmingly uninhibited eccentrics.”

Why I chose it: I’ve been having a hell of a time finding a book for the “Birthday” BINGO square. I kind of wish I’d kept looking.

Review:
I’d not heard of Ms. Frame prior to picking up this novel, but she is a much-celebrated author from New Zealand. If this book is representative of her work, then I can definitely not count myself as a fan. The book follows Istina from one in-patient facility to another and back again, seeing it through her eyes as she deals with hallucinations, being moved to different wards without understanding why, being given ECT, and being scheduled for a lobotomy.

There are moment in this book that are so frustrating, such as when Istina describes the nurses ‘caring’ for patients who are in an especially challenging situation, as instigating fights just to see what the patients will do. Treating them as zoo animals or, perhaps more aptly, fighting dogs. It’s also so sad, but unsurprising, to read of the doctors who make only the occasional appearance in the lives of the patients. No one is really getting therapy or treatment — they are just housed like cattle, kept away from the rest of society without getting much beyond food and shelter.

This is a novel, but it is likely pulled from Ms. Frame’s own life, as she entered in-patient treatment multiple times over nearly a decade, even publishing her first book while a patient. So I cannot speak to whether this is an amazing example of writing about what it is like as a patient with mental illness, but I can say that it was challenging to read. Ms. Frame (or perhaps Istina?) seems to abhor the comma, so sentences at times wander. Again, I couldn’t tell if this was an affect of the main character or if this is just how Ms. Frame writes. If it’s the former, I’m sure it serves a literary function; if it’s the later, it just seems pretentious.

Obviously Ms. Frame was a celebrated author, so I can’t say that this is a BAD book. It is just not one I enjoyed, nor is it one I would recommend.