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Books Archive

Sunday

25

February 2018

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COMMENTS

The Little Book of the London Underground by David Long

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Three Stars

Best for: People who enjoy trivia, transportation, and / or London

In a nutshell: Author Professor David Long provides a sweeping overview of the London Underground, including fun facts, trivia, and more in-depth stories about the people behind it.

Worth quoting:
“Holden was a Quaker … he too declined a knighthood, maintaining that because successful architecture was the result of good teamwork it would be inappropriate for him to profit from the work of others.”

Why I chose it:
I went to the Museum of London last week, as part of my attempt to get to all the free museums before I get a job. I made the mistake (given the size of my to-be-read pile) of going into the gift shop, and ended up leaving with FOUR London-specific books, including two about the Tube. This is the first of those.

Review:
This is not a chronological narrative of the London Underground, so if that’s what you’re looking for, keep looking. Instead, it’s a fun collection of facts, figures, and stories that might make me somewhat obnoxious when I’m traveling on the Tube and find cause to share a fact with my traveling companion.

Prof. Long does offer some things you’d expect, like a time line of the the Tube, a description of each Underground line, and some interesting stories about the people who helped get the different lines from imagination to reality. But he also includes topics like the different maps that have been used (and ways the maps have been revised in clever ways, including one where each line is a genre of music, and each station is a person or band in that genre, with intersections of lines including people who cross genres), how the Tube was used during war, different trains and Tube technologies, as well as how the Tube has featured in pop culture.

There was one area that I found a bit ignorant: in the discussion of the use of escalators vs. lifts (elevators), Prof. Long uses the phrase “…relatively few stations have resisted the temptation to switch from [escalators] to [elevators].” But there’s no mention of how inaccessible this makes the Tube. He’s interested in the technology aspect, but it strikes me as a missed opportunity to treat it solely as a tech issue and ignore the very real impact it has when there is no step-free access.

Otherwise, it’s an entertaining book that has given me some ideas of things to look out for, such as the art at my nearest Tube station, or disused stations I can spot in the tunnels. And hopefully it’ll help bump up my pub quiz scores.

Wednesday

21

February 2018

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COMMENTS

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

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Five Stars

Best for: Everyone interested in combating white supremacy.

In a nutshell: Author Ijeoma Oluo offers practical advice for ways to engage in conversations — and actions — to combat systemic racism.

Worth quoting: SO MUCH. But some of my favorites include:
“White Supremacy is this nation’s oldest pyramid scheme. Even those how have lost everything to the scheme are still hanging in there, waiting for their turn to cash out.”
“I think about every black and brown person, every queer person, every disabled person, who could be in the room with me, but isn’t, and I’m not proud. I’m heartbroken. We should not have a society where the value of marginalized people is determined by how well they can scale often impossible obstacles that others will never know.”
“It may not seem fair that you would take some of the blame for what has happened in the past, but what is truly unfair is the fact that people of color have to endure this every day.”

Why I chose it: Ms. Oluo is a writer based in the Seattle area, so I have been familiar with her work for while. You may be, too: she received a measure of national attention for this fantastic profile of the white woman who claims she is black. She has an amazing talent for writing that I have trouble describing without venturing into hyperbole. She gets to the point, cuts to the quick, and uses language in ways I am envious of. I was sad when I learned the release of this book in London came a month after the US release, but I finally got my hands on it on Sunday.

Review:
Go buy this book. Or get it from your library. If you are a white person, this book will help you understand how to be better at dismantling White Supremacy in all the ways that it works itself into our society. But this book isn’t just — or even primarily — for white people; it’s also a deeply personal exploration of how Ms. Oluo has experienced life as a black woman, and she speaks directly to other people of color throughout.

This could feel like a 101 exploration of how to be less racist (and sexist, and ableist). And in the best ways it does, and in the best ways it doesn’t. The topics are described in a way that I think anyone new to the work of dismantling White Supremacy will find easy to understand. Ms. Oluo never comes across as condescending or patronizing.At the same time, if you are a white person who has chosen to read about and learn about racism and ways to fight white supremacy, you will also learn so much here.

Think about that: Ms. Oluo has written a book that can speak to people new to this work and people who have been paying attention for awhile. That’s pretty bad ass.

I think what makes this book so relevant and necessary is how practical it is. I’ve reviewed books on social justice topics in the past (some focused on racism, some on sexism) that describe all of the problems that Ms. Oluo discusses, but don’t take that next step of offering practical, usable, realistic suggestions for what to do next.

Ms. Oluo does, and she does it so well. She starts by laying the groundwork in her first two chapters, which deftly put to rest the ideas that, say, class is really what we should focus on (“Is it really about race?) or that ‘reverse racism’ is a thing (“What is racism?”). She makes it clear that while white people and people of color may both be poor, the root cause is different, and so focusing just on class isn’t going to address the issues of race. And she makes it clear that she’s interested in looking at racism as the concept that includes the power behind it.

Once she sets up those definitions and bats away the straw men that so many people like to throw into discussions of race, she gets to the heart of many different questions or issues that come up in discussions of race. She speaks to the fear white people often have that we will fuck up when it comes to race (and we will fuck up). She provides one of the best discussions of privilege I’ve ever read. She talks about the need for intersectionality, and about affirmative action. She looks at what the school-to-prison pipeline is, why cultural appropriation is concerning, and breaks down why microaggressions are so insidious.

And in each of these chapters, she provides suggestions for how to address these things. She often even provides sample scripts to help guide the discussions.

The penultimate chapter is one that I think all white people should read, sit with, and read again. It’s called “I just got called racist, what do I do now?” Being white in the US means you are racist. It’s impossible not to be, but it doesn’t mean that you are aware of it or mean to be. But the reality is you (and I) are going to say or do something racist at some point, and if they feel safe to do so, someone will point it out to you (me). And in those moments we have the chance to learn. Being told we’ve done something racist is a kindness; it allows us to do better and be better.

*Note: If you purchase this in the London area, please take a moment to flip all the way through. Specifically, make sure that page 90 is followed by page 91 and not page 59. There was an issue with my copy that saw pages 91-120 missing, and pages 59-90 printed a second time. I returned the book and got a new one without the issue. Later in the day I found myself in another bookstore in London, and picked up a copy, and saw the same issue. I told both shops, so presumably they’ll alert the publisher and get fixed copies, but this book is SO GOOD that I don’t want you to buy it and then find that you’re missing 1/6th of it.

Monday

19

February 2018

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COMMENTS

Silence: In The Age of Noise by Erling Kagge

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Four Stars

Best for: Those looking for a quick but insightful read about all the noise in our lives.

In a nutshell: Explorer and writer Erling Kagge offers his poetic thoughts on the importance of silence in our lives.

Worth quoting:
“There are so many noises that we barely hear them all.”
“Silence in itself is rich. It is exclusive and luxurious.”
“Noise in the form of anticipating a screen or keyboard is addictive, and that is why we need silence.”
“[Silence] is about getting inside what you are doing. Experiencing rather than over-thinking. Allowing each moment to be big enough. Not living through other people and other things.”

Why I chose it: As evidenced by my last review, I’m trying to find more intentionality and authenticity in my life. This book seemed like a good addition to my list of books to help me in that goal.

Review:
What a lovely book. It starts with a quick introduction, then jumps into 33 short chapters that are meditations on the ideas of noise and of silence. Mr. Kagge — who has been to the North and South poles as well as the top of Mt. Everest — knows a thing or two about silence. He went 50 days without speaking when making his way across Antarctica.

But this book isn’t about figuring out a way to get to a snow-covered, empty continent. It’s more about looking at why silence matters, and what it means to find an escape from the din of our lives. As a writer, I especially appreciated the chapters that spoke to the idea that some experiences don’t translate well into words; we just need to be in them. The example he uses is examining the moss on a rock; I would say that I’ve experienced when traveling and I find myself in parts of the world that have architecture from many hundreds of years ago. Being in the moment, instead of talking or even writing about it, helps me connect to it more than if I tried to find the words.

I read a book many years ago called “Einstein’s Dreams,” and this reminds me a bit of that. I doubt they are actually similar, but the feeling I got from it is comparable. I felt calm, and invested in the writing. I felt peaceful but also motivated.

This book has been translated into 33 languages, and I can see why. I think the message translates well.

Monday

19

February 2018

0

COMMENTS

How to Break Up with Your Phone by Catherine Price

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Four Stars

Best for: Anyone who realizes that their phone has become less of a tool and more of an additional appendage.

In a nutshell: Catherine Price provides evidence for the dangers of too much phone use, and offers an EFFECTIVE (in my experience) 30-day program to be more intentional in our use of it.

Worth quoting:
“Smartphones have infiltrated our lives so quickly and so thoroughly that we have never stopped to think about what we actually want our relationships with them to look like.”
“What reward are you hoping to receive, or what discomfort are you trying to avoid?”

Why I chose it: I don’t have a job right now, and I find myself with more free time. I don’t want to spend it staring at my phone. Additionally, having moved from friends yet again I’m trying to balance how to stay engaged with them across continents and time zones while still engaging with the life I’m living here, now.

Review:
This book has the potential to be a game changer for me and, hopefully, for you, if you find the topic interesting. Part of it focuses on social media (and this is obviously an issue close to readers and staff at Pajiba http://www.pajiba.com/think_pieces/facebook-is-a-filthy-cesspit-of-fake-news-and-narcissistic-validation-im-so-glad-i-deleted-my-account.php), but in general it focuses on why we use our phones and what our use may be doing to us.

That first quote up there really gets to the heart of why this book is so effective: while at some point during the break-up you do go 24 hours without your phone (I did it Saturday morning – Sunday morning, and I’m still here), it isn’t REALLY about giving up your phone forever. It’s about being more intentional with your time; specifically how you can get your phone working for you.

Price spends the first half of the book convincing the reader of all the ways our phones fuck with our heads. From interrupting relationships (how many of us whip out our phones when meeting up with friends), to abbreviating our attention spans, to just generally wasting our time, phones aren’t doing us a whole lot of favors. But this book isn’t pushing the reader to throw our our phones; it’s about, again, paying attention to when we use our phones and way.

For me, my phone is part tool: it helps me get around my new city, it helps me figure out what the fuck it means when the weather tells me it’s going to 9 today (oh how I miss Farenheit); it lets me keep track of our budget. It’s also a way to stay in touch: Whatsapp has become a great way to stay connected to family back in the US; Slack keeps one group of friends sharing photos and links; texts let me know when the furniture is being delivered.

It’s also been (until now), a way to play around with social media. I have three Twitter accounts: a professional one with my legal name, a personal one with a user name, and one for my website. I follow a lot of news organizations on the professional one; my personal one is where I follow more opinion writers. It’s how I’ve felt connected to the world. I also had Facebook on there, and Instagram. And email.

Now? I still have Instagram and some news apps, but all the twitter apps I had are gone, as is Facebook. I still log in from my phone, but I have to actually LOG IN. I can’t just flip in open. As part of the 30-day process, Price suggests downloading a time usage tracker; I used OFFTIME, and it’s been shocking and illuminating. It has all sorts of tricks, like setting up a schedule for when your phone is in lock down and when it isn’t, and it also tracks the amount of time you’re spending on your phone.

Part of the process also involves turning off all (or nearly all) notifications. So I still have news apps, but none of the notifications are turned on. I have email, but I have to actually open the app to see if I have new messages. I still get notifications for texts / Whatsapp / slack, but I don’t feel as beholden to it.

There are other great steps, like making the bedroom a phone-free zone (she recommends buying an actual alarm clock; I have a watch that I can use that way, so that was an easy fix for me), and making dinner a phone-free zone as well. I’ve decided to make all meals phone-free as much as possible, and I’ve started turning my phone off at 9PM on weeknights.

Price recognizes that our phones are connections to the world in many ways, and she doesn’t judge the reasons people use them. She just wants us all to make sure we are using them the ways we want. If scrolling through Twitter for 20 minutes after the washing up is done in the evening is a good way for you to relax, then go for it! But set a time limit before the entire evening goes away. Replace that time with things you want to do – maybe instead of spending an hour on Facebook, you can spend an hour learning to draw, or playing a game with your partner.

I’m still a little worried, and still sorting out exactly what relationship I want with my phone. For the past 14 months since the 2016 election I’ve felt that I need to be on social media to know what’s going on so I can be a good activist. But I’ve taken that too far, and it’s not helping anyone or anything. I’m not going to delete my accounts, but I am going to take advantage of things like lists so that I can be more intentional about what I’m reading, and set aside specific times to read them.

I love my phone. It has so many features and ways that improve my life. My partner makes his livelihood off of mobile games (and has since moved to a company that has a philosophy about gaming that better matches intentional usage as opposed to time- and money-sucking addictive behavior), so I’m certainly not about to suggest that games are bad. I don’t think any component is really bad on it’s own; it’s about how we make use of it. It’s about living a more intentional life, and this book is just one tool to help get there.

Sunday

18

February 2018

0

COMMENTS

101 Weekends in Europe by Robin Barton

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Four Stars

Best for: People living in the UK looking for ideas of places to visit in Europe

In a nutshell: Snapshots of locals across Europe, including a few cities that might not be top of mind.

Worth quoting: N/A

Why I chose it: Looking for ideas for quick breaks away from London.

Review:
When I popped over to Amazon to grab the link for this review, I saw it had a very low rating (two 1-star and two 2-star reviews). I can see being disappointed, but those folks seemed to be expecting a detailed travel guide, and I can’t imagine expecting loads of details in a book that talks about 101 different cities in 30+ different countries.

It met my expectations perfectly and I’d recommend it for anyone living in the UK and looking for some ideas of where to start with planning weekends away. There are some of the usual suspects (Paris, Berlin), but also some cities that might not be first on the list, such as Talinn in Estonia. The author shares which airlines fly there from which London-area airports, so it works well for someone like me who is based in London.

Additionally, while the author doesn’t explicitly say if you need a car, the descriptions give a good enough idea of whether the main highlights are in a walkable city center or if the whole point is driving to neighboring towns.

My only complaint is that this seems to have been updated in 2015 (or at least reissued), but some of the text talks about things scheduled to be constructed / completed in 2008 / 2009. Surely they could have looked that up?

Wednesday

14

February 2018

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COMMENTS

52 Great British Weekends by Annabelle Thorpe

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Three Stars

Best for: People new to the UK, ideally with access to a car

In a nutshell: Guidebook with ideas for 52 weekend getaways in England, Scotland, and Wales, organized by best time of year to go.

Worth quoting: N/A

Why I chose it: London is awesome, but there’s a lot more to see around here.

Review: Generally speaking I like this book. It suggests quite a few places that I’ve never heard of or would not have thought to go to. Each section is only about three pages long, and includes a few ideas of where to stay, where to eat, and what to do, as well as the directions to get there via car. Each suggested getaway has something special about it, such as an afternoon at the races, and include two or three other places you can witness that special thing.

There is a lot of variety here; there are suggestions for pub crawls, sailing, shopping, holiday festivals, biking, and hiking. The author also notes if there are any special points of history, or any activities that kids will especially enjoy.

We’ve not yet made use of the book, but I really wish it had included an extra line in each section about whether it’s easily accessible via rail. I finished the book earlier today, but just spent the last two hours seeing whether the locations can be reached if I don’t have a car. Many can (yay rail travel!) but some definitely require a car.

Monday

12

February 2018

0

COMMENTS

You Do You by Sarah Knight

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Four Stars

Best for: Anyone looking for an entertaining read that also might help you embrace your unconventional life choices.

In a nutshell: Author Sarah Knight (who has written two other sort-of-self-help books) offers some updates to the social contract to help people get more out of life with a little less worry.

Worth quoting:
“The friends who don’t judge you for choosing what’s best for you are the ones you’ll want to keep closer than anyone.”
“You’re not ‘unsuccessful’ if you never dialed up a particular destination in the first place, regardless of how popular it may be with others.”
“Prioritize your needs, but don’t be an asshole about it.”

Why I chose it: My partner drew it to my attention. I mostly enjoyed one of her previous books, so I figured, why not.

Review:
I enjoyed this more that the previous book of hers that I reviewed during my last Cannonball Read. It has the same snark and sass, but it felt a bit more relateable this time around for some reason. She’s got the humor down, but she also offers some solid life advice.

I appreciate the premise – you should be allowed to live your life as you see fit, provided that you aren’t as asshole about it and aren’t actively hurting others. I think that there are a lot of us who make some choices (to keep renting instead of buying, to live together but not get married, to not date at all, to not have children) but find ourselves feeling judged and possibly adjusting how we act around other because of that.

Ms. Knight is offering another way – a way to reframe our thinking and end up happier because we are making choices that are authentic to who we are. And as is key, this doesn’t mean you get to yell at people because you want, or litter, or do other things just because, as those things are asshole things. But not giving your parents grandkids? That’s not an asshole thing; that’s you making the choice that fits the life you want to live.

If you struggle with choices that don’t fit the mold, you might find this helpful. Even if you and everyone you love is cool with your full-face tattoo, you’ll still probably enjoy the humor here.

Friday

9

February 2018

0

COMMENTS

Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

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Five Stars

Best for: Anyone interested in a basic understanding of how the earth has influenced politics across the world.

In a nutshell: Author Tim Marshall breaks the world into ten regions and gives an overview of how different geographic and cultural components (rivers, deserts, mountains, harbors, tribes) have affected different political decisions.

Worth quoting:
“The better your relationship with Russia, the less you pay for energy; for example, Finland get a better deal than the Baltic States.”
“China has locked itself into the global economy. If we don’t buy, they don’t make. And if they don’t make there will be mass unemployment.”
“Amazing rivers, but most of them are rubbish for actually transporting anything, given that every few miles you go over a waterfall.”
“The notion that a man from a certain area could not travel across a region to see a relative from the same tribe unless he had a document, granted to him by a third man he didn’t know in a faraway town, made little sense.”

Why I chose it: I don’t know near enough about the world and the motivation behind some actions, and this looked like a great 101-level introduction. And it is.

Review:
This book could have gone one of two ways in my mind: impossible to slog through or difficult to put down. I find that often with non-fiction surveys: in an attempt to fit loads of information into one small book, the density can lead to dry writing and a list of dates and names that rivals the Numbers book in the Bible.

Mr. Marshall does, in my opinion, a great job of parsing some of the most critical bits and connecting them to other critical bits. Obviously the 40 pages on the Middle East won’t be able to get into the nuance of everything, but it’s a starting point.

The Ten Maps include: Russia; China; USA; Western Europe; Africa; The Middle East; India and Pakistan; Korea and Japan; Latin America; and the Arctic. Obviously that doesn’t cover all of the world; Mr. Marshall points out right up front that it leaves out Australia, for example, and much of the south pacific. But it’s a start, and was eye-opening for me.

I think starting with Russia is a smart move, especially since (from my perspective as someone from the US) Russia has been a bit, shall we say, active in the business of other nations as of late. The edition I had included information as late as summer 2017, so its quite a current book. Each chapter looks at the geography of the region and uses it as a jumping off point to get at how that might influence the decisions each nation makes. It doesn’t make moral judgment; it just explains. So, for example, if your country relies on water from a river that flows through a neighboring nation, you’re going to be VERY interested in how things are going in that nation.

As I said, this is a survey, not a deep analysis of any one nation, but still, I feel much better informed about the world than I did a week ago.

Wednesday

31

January 2018

0

COMMENTS

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for: Anyone who is a fan of Secretary Clinton; anyone who isn’t a fan of Secretary Clinton; anyone interested in learning more about how we can prevent something like Trump from happening again.

In a nutshell: First major-party woman nominee for President of the US loses to an ignorant charlatan and seeks to figure out why.

Worth quoting:
“Throughout the 2016 campaign, my staff would come to me wide-eyed. ‘You’ll never believe what Trump said today. It was vile.’ I always believed it. Not just because of who Trump is but because of who we can be at our worst. We’ve seen it too many times to be surprised.”
“Something I wish every man across America understood is how much fear accompanies women throughout our lives.”
“I’ve always believed that it’s dangerous to make big promises if you have no idea how you’re going to keep them. When you don’t deliver, it will make people even more cynical about government.”
“Many in the press and political chattering class marveled at how Teflon-coated Trump seemed to be, ignoring their own role in making him so.”

Why I chose it: I voted for Secretary Clinton, both in the primary in my state (which didn’t count, because Washington uses the horribly inaccessible caucus system) and in the general election. I was heartbroken when she lost. I bought this book the week it came out, but could only bring myself to start reading it this year.

Review: I think this book is mostly perfect for what it is. It’s a post-mortem but it’s also a celebration. It’s a glimpse into what we are missing out on because of 40,000 votes in three states, because the fear in the hearts of some outweighed the optimism in the hearts of others.

Secretary Clinton starts with Trump’s inauguration and then jumps back to deciding to run again after losing the primary to President Obama in 2008. She takes the reader through her decision-making process, and from there jumps from topic to topic, looking at what it means to be a woman in politics, what it means to be HER in politics.

She also doesn’t hold back when talking about her perceptions of how she was treated as compared to the men she ran against – first to Sen. Sanders and then to Trump. And I will say I have to agree with how Sen. Sanders seemed to be allowed to just say whatever and was fawned over, while Secretary Clinton would offer a more realistic version and be slammed for it. It was so frustrating. I also appreciated her discussion of gun violence and the stark difference between her position and Sen. Sanders.

The part that is most frustrating to read, however, is how she was treated by and in relation to Trump. She spends an entire chapter on the emails / private server issue, and frankly I wish everyone were required to read it before offering an opinion on the topic. And she gets into very specific detail about why, in the end, she ultimately lost.

I saw other reviewers in the media suggest she doesn’t take responsibility for her loss, but that’s not right. She takes responsibility for the part she should, such as not recognizing fully how much fear and anger were the focus of some people (and rightfully so). But she then appropriately points out how voter suppression, the Russian influence on social media, and the Comey letter less than two weeks before the election really did have a measurable impact. It’s frustrating and made me want to throw things more than once.

One area that she doesn’t talk about as much in the ‘why’ section is misogyny. She definitely devotes time to it throughout, but I do think that there were plenty of people who perhaps stayed home because they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a woman. They might not recognize that consciously, but it’s there.

The book didn’t leave me despondent, although I was angry when I finished it. It, for me, was just another reminder of how much work we all have to do to keep the current president from causing more damage than he already has.

Monday

29

January 2018

0

COMMENTS

Hatchards

Written by , Posted in Bookshops

There are bookshops everywhere here. Or at least, it feels like it. And I am definitely okay with it. For example, I stumble across one today on my way to a museum. (That’s right, I’m taking full advantage of not having a job right now while living in a city full of free museums.)

If Hatchards were a person, I think it would be a very traditional, older, white man. Perhaps it’s the age (it’s over 200 years old), or the decor (plush carpet in need of a good cleaning, bookcases that appear to have layers of paint on them), or the staff (all middle-aged white men), but I can’t imagine people having conversations above a whisper in here. It feels more library than bookstore.

That said, there are FIVE FLOORS OF BOOKS. Five. Floors. I mean, come on.

I go all the way up and all the way down, doing a very quick scan. I don’t notice specific cultural studies, women’s studies, or LGBTQ studies section, which is a drawback in such a large space (it’s also possible I just don’t notice them). At the same time I love how large the shop is, and love that it has an entire bookcase devoted to Agatha Christie books. Yet something about it seems just a little too serious for me.

Which I guess makes sense, since it’s surrounded by fancy stores and is just a few doors down from Fortnam and Mason.

I still bought a book, and it’s one written by a white male, because that seems on brand: