ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

CBR10 Archive

Friday

10

August 2018

0

COMMENTS

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: Young adults who want a love story that isn’t as absurd as Romeo and Juliet but that doesn’t discount their feelings.

In a nutshell: Eleanor comes from a fucked-up home. Park does not. Both are a bit outcast-y. Events transpire.

Worth quoting: “When Eleanor was around girls like that — like Park’s mom, like Tina, like most of the girls in the neighborhood — she wondered where they put their organs. Like, how could you have a stomach and intestines and kidneys, and still wear such tiny jeans?”

Why I chose it: I didn’t realize how many of the most popular CBR books I’d already read. I was sort of avoiding this one as it wasn’t appealing to me, but ultimately I’m glad I read it.

Review: This is a very quick read. I got it from the library on Wednesday and finished it Thursday night. Given its popularity, I think there probably isn’t that much more for me to say. But I’ll try…

The writing is good, but even though this is such a thoroughly character-driven book, I felt that the characters weren’t that well developed. Am I alone on this? Probably. We seemed to get some more interesting information about these two people prior to them meeting, but it mostly came in the last 10% of the book. I suppose the author was going for just a slice of life, but still, I wanted to know more about Eleanor especially, beyond just not liking how she looks.

I also appreciate that Ms. Rowell treated young relationships with such care — she doesn’t condescend, she doesn’t doubt their feelings. She explores them. And that’s pretty awesome.

I also like the very, very end. I know it is controversial for some people, but I like it. My copy has an author note where Ms. Rowell addresses this controversy, and I totally got her reasoning. I thought it was pretty cool.

Wednesday

8

August 2018

0

COMMENTS

Lean Out by Dawn Foster

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: Folks who claim the feminist title; folks who thought there was something off about Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In.”

In a nutshell: Foster picks apart the main themes of Sandberg’s best seller and points out all the ways that it is harmful to feminism; namely, that it doesn’t acknowledge the bigger issues at play, such as patriarchy and capitalism.

Worth quoting:
“A woman may be as ambitious as she wants, but the people hiring and firing have their own preconceptions, in a society that maintains that women are less decisive, logical and driven.”
“Lean In points all the blame inward, and ignores structural inequality.”
“The benefit of having women in the cabinet remains to be seen for migrant, low-paid, or abused women.”

Why I chose it:
I care about women succeeding but was turned off by Sandberg’s premise.

Review:
Dawn Foster packs a lot of useful, depressing, and motivating information into 81 pages. While the overarching premise is a response to Sandberg’s Lean In, the book’s focus is on the failings of corporate and white feminism as a whole. How feminism isn’t about the number of women at the board table (in fact, despite our hopes, women and POC apparently don’t tend to hire people who look like them once they’re in that position); it’s about uprooting and overturning a system that punishes women for being women by denying them access to quality jobs, quality housing, and basic respect for work.

Foster covers a lot of ground across the eight chapters. In the Hiring and Firing chapter, Foster discusses zero-contract jobs and jobs that require heavy emotional labor. Regarding zero-contract jobs (basically, hourly wage jobs where you aren’t ever guaranteed any work), she points out that your livelihood is essentially based not on how well you do your job, but on how well you get along with your manager. And sure, that can be the case in salaried positions, but in those, the feedback and punishment for not doing the emotional labor happens over time – individuals in zero-contract jobs may find themselves with no hours a week after a clash with the manager. She also looks at PR jobs, with are 80% women, even though fewer than 40% of the journalists they interact with are women, and how that, too, is a field dependent on doing a ton of emotional labor, including while off the clock.

The chapter on choice feminism was, I think, the best as a way to introduce to others who claim the feminist title that perhaps there’s more to it than arguing about taking a spouse’s last name upon marriage. Yes, we can manage multiple concerns at once, but she put it in a way I hadn’t thought about when she said:

“Time and attention within life are finite, and “wins” that seem more achievable are more likely to spur the column inches which are then denied to issues that hit the invisible, the poorer, and the more marginalised.”

Honestly, I’ve always been a big proponent of the easy wins. I sign petitions against corporations who have absurd ads. But I hadn’t though about how this anger — which is usually justified — takes away time and space from other, more pressing, less easily digested challenges.

I never read Lean In, and I never will, because I don’t think Sandberg is doing any of us any favors. It’s not up to women to lean into the way things are; it’s up to women to change the things that don’t work for the most marginalized among us.

 

Monday

6

August 2018

0

COMMENTS

Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: People who like stories from clinicians but don’t mind a mildly obnoxious storyteller.

In a nutshell: Henry Marsh has been a brain surgeon for 40 years. So, y’know, he’s got some stories.

Worth quoting:
“She would be added to the list of my disasters — another headstone in that cemetery with the French surgeon Leriche once said all surgeons carry within themselves.”
“Informed consent sounds so easy in principle … The reality is very different. Patients are both terrified and ignorant. How are they to know whether the surgeon is competent or not? They will try to overcome their fear by investing the surgeon with superhuman abilities.”

Why I chose it:
I love medical stories. Don’t know why. But I do.

Review:
This was not my favorite. It’s not a bad book – and obviously many people think it is fantastic. In fact, the people sitting next to me on my flight home yesterday had read it and loved it. The stories are interesting for sure – and I like that each chapter is headed with a quick definition of the condition we’ll be learning about via a patient story in the pages to follow. But it’s not organized in any real way, there’s not much of a through-line or theme, and I was not impressed with some of the things the author shared.

Specifically, Marsh seems to hate fat people, hate administrators and any policy that means he doesn’t get to do things the exact way he wants, and generally seems to view himself as a bit of a martyr.

Regarding the fat hate: I saw this a little bit in “This is Going to Hurt,” which I read earlier this summer. But Marsh at one point refers to bariatric patients as small whales. Like, what the fuck, dude? I appreciate wanting to tell a story where you aren’t always the hero, and to be honest to who you are, but when that honesty involves being hateful to a group of people — some of whom have been under your care in the past — you’re being pretty shitty.

Marsh also rails against administrative changes in the NHS. He screams at non-neurosurgeons who have the nerve to come into what they’ve been told would be a shared lounge space. He completely disregards and disrespects the idea that doctors maybe shouldn’t work a million hours a week. And he apparently doesn’t give a fuck about patient confidentiality — and is proud of that.

Some of the stories he tells are interesting, but as I got to know the version of the author that he chose to reveal to his reader, I found myself less and less interested in what he had to say. I know that arrogance and ego are often hallmarks of (good!) surgeons; I’m just not sold on the idea that they are hallmarks of good writers.

 

Monday

6

August 2018

0

COMMENTS

While I Was Sleeping by Dani Atkins

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: Those who enjoy Liane Moriarty’s work; those who like stories told from multiple perspectives and that jump back and forth in time.

In a nutshell: Maggie is 14 weeks pregnant and getting married in four days. She is hit by a car and falls into a coma. When she wakes up, she thinks she’s been out for seven weeks. It’s been … a bit longer.

Worth quoting:
“ ‘Aren’t you fed up with books after working here all day?’ Her question was so alien she might as well have asked if I was fed up with breathing. I lived for books.

Why I chose it:
I think the name caught my eye (I am a big fan of “While You Were Sleeping”), and then once I read the first few pages, I was like “yup.”

Review:
I don’t know about you, but when I fly, I bring a bunch of books but often get so antsy that I end up watching a movie. Not this time. I started reading this book on a flight to Iceland last week, and ended up finishing it up a couple of days later, despite the fact that it is 560 pages long. It was just that compelling. As I said above, if you like the Liane Moriarty-style books, I think you’ll like this (though it doesn’t have any murdery bits). My review requires revealing some things that you’ll find out in the first quarter of the book, but because I loved discovering them, I’ll leave them to the bigger review below.

*Minor Spoilers Below*

Maggie has been in a coma for six years. SIX YEARS. Yikes. Her fiance is married to someone else, and he has a kid.

Correction: THEY have a kid.

I KNOW.

The story follows how Maggie, Chloe (the new wife) and … the husband, whose name I’ve forgotten (I left the book at my hotel in Iceland so others could enjoy it). The entire first bit is from Maggie’s perspective. So you really get to be on her side. You understand how her fiance (I want to say … Rick? Richard?) would eventually move on, but still, you also know that for her, she is not at all removed from the days when she was about to marry the love of her life.

But then, we get things from Chloe’s perspective. We learn how she came into Maggie and … Ryan’s? … lives, and eventually fell in love with Maggie’s fiance. And it becomes harder to root for or against anyone. Everyone is sympathetic, everyone is doing their best.

I enjoyed this one a lot, and will be seeking out more by Ms. Atkins.

 

Saturday

28

July 2018

0

COMMENTS

I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O’Farrell

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: Those who enjoy literary non-fiction and are not deterred by fairly grim subject matters.

In a nutshell: Author Maggie O’Farrell examines, with lovely prose, moments in her life that could have led to her imminent death.

Worth quoting:
“Crossing time zones in this way can bring upon you an unsettling, distorted clarity. Is it the altitude, the unaccustomed inactivity, the physical confinement, the lack of sleep, or a collision of all four?”
“To be so unheard, so disregarded, so disbelieved: I was unprepared for this. I also felt helpless, blocked in.”
“When you are a child, no one tells you that you’re going to die. You have to work it out for yourself.”

Why I chose it:
I was in a bookshop connected to a museum that focuses on health, and they were having a “Three for the price of two” sale. This one looked like an interesting third book.

Review:
I find books about health, illness, and death fascinating. Part of it is I’m sure, because of what I do for a living (even though I’ve moved, I’m still doing contract work related to mass fatality incidents), although I’d wager that perhaps that’s more of a correlation; the same thing in me that finds it interesting to think about how to handle a mass shooting is probably the same thing that makes me seek out books like this.

Although, to be fair to the author, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book quite like this one. Ms. O’Farrell is an amazing writer; she’s able to write in a way that walks right up to flowery without ever getting there. She chooses words that at times might be slightly more obscure than necessary, but not so often that it feels affected: it’s just how she writes, and it’s lovely to behold.

It’s also a great juxtaposition to such potentially dark subject matter: nearly dying.

Don’t be confused: this isn’t a book about seeing the light, floating above one’s body during surgery, or anything so mystical. Instead it’s the story of a woman who, at age eight, has encephalitis and nearly dies. After that, she has many other near-death experiences, and only a couple are related to the lasting affects of that illness.

She starts with an essay about the time she managed to avoid being murdered. But not all essays are as dramatic or dire – one involves a flight that goes awry but ultimately is fine (there are likely thousands of people who have had similar experiences), another, a juvenile mistake that any of us could see ourselves making. In fact, save for a couple of instances, I think some of the power in this collection of essays is how mundane some of her brushes with death are. Any of us may have experienced one or two of them; but seventeen? Holy shit.

The last two essays are the longest and most dramatic. The sixteenth brush with death is the story of O’Farrell’s childhood illness; the seventeenth is of her daughters severe chronic illness. See the perspective of an ill child from the child herself, and then as a mother witnessing it in her own child is extraordinarily powerful.

 

Thursday

26

July 2018

0

COMMENTS

Iceland by Andrew Evans

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: Those traveling to Iceland who want some more history beyond a couple pages in the back of the book.

In a nutshell: Author Andrew Evans provides a (more than usual) in-depth history of Iceland before sharing standard guide-book fare.

Worth quoting:
“Iceland is the most literate country in the world and one out of every ten Icelanders will write a book in their lifetime.”
“Also, don’t bring a pair of shorts just in case it gets warm. It won’t.”

Why I chose it:
I’m heading to Iceland for a long weekend next month.

Review:
As I write this it is currently 94 degrees outside. In London. A place roundly mocked for being rainy and mild year round.

Ninety. Four. Degrees.

What I’m saying is, I CANNOT WAIT to get to Iceland, where it’s going to be in the low 50s. It’s possible I will be cold again soon.

Anyway, I bought this book awhile ago and then realized the trip was coming up quickly. I am not familiar with Bradt guides, so I figured I’d try it out on a low-stakes weekend away to see if it’s worth seeking out for longer trips in the future.

It definitely is.

I think I’ve said before that I appreciate guides that provide more than just the tourist info. And I don’t mean that I need hidden gems or whatever; I mean I want to know something about the place I’m going. And this guide delivers. The first four chapters – nearly a quarter of the book – focuses on the background, history, natural history, and practical information one needs when visiting Iceland.

The book then breaks the country down into a few regions, focusing on how to get around and then providing details on the towns in the region. The only area that took some getting used to was the “things to do” piece isn’t broken down the way it normally is. Instead of little chunks of info listed out (like the accommodation and restaurant sections), it’s more of a narrative, with the needed details (like opening hours) includes in parenthesis. Not my favorite way to get information, but a little easier to read.

 

Saturday

21

July 2018

0

COMMENTS

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: Anyone who likes fairly humorous personal memoirs, especially of the healthcare variety. Probably not best for those currently pregnant, unless they want to read a bunch of vignettes about the various things that might go wrong during labor and delivery (though to be fair, only one such vignette ends poorly, and that’s near the end of the book).

In a nutshell: Former junior doctor Adam Kay unearthed his diaries from the few years he was a doctor working in the NHS.

Worth quoting:
“It’s a surreal feeling being this tired — almost like being in a computer game. You’re there but you’re not there. I suspect my reaction times are currently the same as when I’m about three pints deep. And yet if I turned up at work pissed they’d probably be unimpressed — it’s clearly important my senses are only dulled through exhaustion.”
“ ‘It’s funny — you don’t think of doctors getting ill.’ It’ true, and I think it’s part of something bigger: patients don’t actually think of doctors as being human. It’s why they’re so quick to complain if we make a mistake or if we get cross.”

Why I chose it:
Much like “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine,” there are only so many times I can see a book that looks mildly interesting prominently displayed before I say “FINE. I’LL READ IT. BACK OFF.” Plus, it’s a memoir (check), it’s funny (check), and it involves health (check).

Review:
Adam Kay used to be a doctor. Now he’s a TV writer (UK shows primarily, as far as I can tell) and a talented author, given his debut. This book followed Kay from his first post-medical-school posting through to the day he decides to leave his career. The “Heartbreaking” pull quote on the front cover seems mostly to refer to the incident that leads Kay to quit; the rest of the book is frankly pretty hilarious.

For those not living in the UK, some of the terms can be a bit challenging to get used to, but Kay explains them quickly and easily. As someone who has spent all but a year and a half of her life in the US, I was always confused by the term “junior doctor.” And I think that kept me away from this book for a bit (did I really want to read a bunch of stories about Meredith first year on Grey’s Anatomy? Watching it on TV is one thing, but first years seem to make loads of mistakes, so it seems like it’ll be kind of dark…), but apparently literally everyone except “consultants” are called junior doctors here (UK natives, please correct me if I’m wrong). Consultants are simply the ones who have been around longest and worked their way up the ladder. So a junior doctor could be someone who has been a doctor for many years.

Kay and his editors do a great job of presenting the information. While there are some running themes — namely that free healthcare is amazing and the NHS is fantastic but damn it it needs more support for the providers — and a glimpse or two into Kay’s personal life — his friend Ray, his partner H, and another friend for whom he provides literally life-saving phone calls — the book is split into chapters based on his postings and jobs. It’s chronological, with each section starting with a little overview of things to come, and then a bunch of diary entries that range from a paragraph to a couple pages.

Kay includes footnotes often, which took a few pages to get used to but which I ultimately appreciated greatly. As someone who watches a lot of medical TV (yes, I do still watch Grey’s Anatomy and yes, I still enjoy it), and who has many friends who have given birth, there are terms I’ve heard and kind of understood but didn’t totally get, and many of those are explained here. Kay also has a wicked sense of humor, which caused many a out loud chuckle from me.

The only areas where I took some issue with the writing were his negative comments about Jehovah’s Witnesses (I know, the ‘no blood’ thing must both doctors a great deal, but maybe dial it down a notch) and his seeming annoyance at making accommodations for obese people. Both of those things only came up once, and I didn’t get he sense that they came from places of hate, but they did take me out of the story for a bit.

Wednesday

18

July 2018

0

COMMENTS

Not That Bad by Roxane Gay

Written by , Posted in Feminism, Reviews

Four Stars

Content Note: This book’s subtitle is literally “Dispatches from Rape Culture.”

Best for: Those looking for some reassurance and reminders that yes, it really is that bad.

In a nutshell: Editor Roxane Gay brings together essays from 30 people (mostly women), all of which address some part of rape culture.

Worth quoting:
“The part I wanted them to understand is that these equations can implode, constricting your whole life, until one day you’re sitting in a locked steel box breathing through an airhole with a straw and wondering, Now? Now am I safe?”
“I wonder if, when it finally stops for good, if it will be too late to relax, if the muscle memory of the harassment will keep me tense on the sidewalk forever.”
“Then they will revise backward. They will take every opinion they’ve ever heard from you, every personality train, every action, and recast them in light of what you told them. This will be particularly true of your sexual behavior and your appearance.”

Why I chose it:
Roxane Gay.

Review:
I am a writer. I mean, I don’t get paid to write, but I do write. A lot. And I have this essay, still sitting in the ‘ready to pitch’ folder in Scrivener, simply called “Arm Grab,” about the time a random dude grabbed and squeezed my arm and then ran off, and what multiple encounters like that do a person over time. And before reading this book, I probably would have left it in the folder forever because it is just one in a long line of small incidents that I would have described as “not that bad.”

This is a book that can be hard to read. It isn’t 30 essays about rape, though — it’s 30 essays about the various ways that rape culture affects women and men. About street harassment, and child abuse, and date rape. Individual stories that are connected by the ways we don’t believe women, or treat them as broken, or at fault, or as liars. The ways we’re taught to be grateful that our experiences don’t matter, don’t affect the ways we navigate this world.

The essay that resonated the most with me was “Getting Home,” where author Nicole Boyce talks about how an experience led to her not feeling comfortable walking alone after dark. Like ever. And so much of what she wrote lives in my head. The fear of the sound behind me when I leave the tube station. The keys sticking out through our fingers. My confusion and then sadness when my husband and I go for a walk late in the evening and I don’t want to walk through the park because I wouldn’t do it alone, and I remember that he navigates the world without really having to make those calculations.

I’d recommend this to everyone who feels that they’re in a place where they could read it. It’s not light reading, but it wasn’t nearly as challenging a read as I thought it would be.

 

Monday

25

June 2018

0

COMMENTS

Consequences by E. M. Delafield

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: Those looking for a Victorian-set novel about England that isn’t happy and (spoiler alert) doesn’t end in a happy romance.

In a nutshell: Alex Chase is miserable and cannot find a way to be happy.

Worth quoting:
“The despair that invades an undeveloped being is the blackest in the world, because of its utter want of perspective.”
“What do girls want to write to one another for? They can’t have anything to say.”
“One suffered until one could bear no more, and then it was all numbness and inertia.”

Why I chose it:
There is an amazing bookshop in London called Persephone Books. They are not just a shop; they publish works as well, focusing primarily on forgotten female authors. I visited earlier this year and snapped up three books; this is the first I’ve gotten around to reading.

Review:
This book is not for those going through a rough patch. It does not end on a high note, and there isn’t much along the way to make the reader feel hopeful. But at the same time, it feels honest, as not all people experience a life that is full of happiness, or redemption, or joy.

Alex is the eldest of three girls and two boys, and is being raised in a Victorian home that is clearly well-off (her father is, in fact, a sir). We meet Alex when she is just 12 years old, and she is clearly emotionally distraught. She craves attention and seems only to think to find it by misbehaving. Not intentionally so much; she just doesn’t think about the consequences (see what I did there) of her actions. When her lack of thought leads to her sister being seriously injured, she is sent to a convent for education.

At the convent she receives an education but does not make friends, and receives negative attention (if she receives any at all). She is painfully awkward, and unable to make the connections she craves. She is infatuated with a fellow classmate who barely acknowledges her existence until she realizes that Alex might be a good social connection.

That friendship never pans out, and when Alex is of age to come out to society, she doesn’t find much success. Her mother seems to care, as does her father, although her father throughout the book says some very heartless things. No one seems to care much that Alex is clearly distraught and depressed; Alex herself is often unable to articulate her own wants and fears. Part of that stems from the Victorian era, and part of that I think stems from piss-poor parenting.

She clings to anyone who might give her attention, eventually leading her to join a convent but unfortunately things do not improve for her. The last hundred pages or so are rough to read, not because they are poorly written, but because Alex continues to experience such an inability to navigate the world she lives in.

As I said, it is not a happy book, but I think it is good enough that I can recommend it to those who might find the premise interesting.

 

Monday

18

June 2018

0

COMMENTS

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier

Written by , Posted in Reviews

3 Stars

Best for: People looking for a push to consider leaving social media.

In a nutshell: Silicon Valley veteran (seriously, he worked on internet stuffs in the early 80s) attempts to make the case that social media — in its current form — is harming us and society, and tried to get us to quit. Mixed results follow.

Worth quoting:
“Yes, being able to quit is a privilege; many genuinely can’t. But if you have the latitude to quit and don’t, you are not supporting the less fortunate; you are only reinforcing the system in which many people are trapped.”
“The core of the BUMMER machine is not a technology, exactly, but a style of business plan that spews out perverse incentives and corrupts people.”
“You know the adage that you should choose a partner on the basis of who you become when you’re around the person? That’s a good way to choose technologies, too.”
“When we’re all seeing different, private worlds, then our cues to one another become meaningless… Can you imagine if Wikipedia showed different versions of entries to each person on the basis of a secret data profile of that person?”

Why I chose it:
I’ve been spending time this year focusing on how I spend my time – I read “How to Break Up with Your Phone” and “Silence” in quick succession. I’ve also been more and more frustrated with how much time I find myself checking Facebook and Twitter, so I thought I’d see if this book helped push me one way or the other.

Review:
Author Lanier’s premise is that the internet is not bad, but our current social media options (most, at least), are. He uses the abbreviation BUMMER throughout as shorthand for what he calls “Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent.” He makes some good arguments, but his writing leaves a lot to be desired. Part of my issue is seeing the word BUMMER multiple times a page (it feels like I’m being shouted at) and part of my issue is that the editing of this book is not great. There are a lot of ideas slotted into a lot of subcategories that makes it difficult to follow at times.

Lanier makes some great points. He discusses how our empathy for others has eroded because it is based on knowing a bit about what they experience, but the algorithms mean we all are seeing different things. It’s hard to respond to someone talking about something you’ve never been exposed to, or that is the complete opposite of what you’ve been exposed to. He also — and I think this is his strongest point — suggests we look at the type of person we are when we’re on different social media platforms.

As I said above, he’s not saying that it’s *the internet* that is to blame, but instead the business model that sells the consumer as the product. It’s not so much about malice (although the people behind the bots that helped sway the US election were certainly full of malice from my perspective), but about subtle adjustments to what we see so that we then do what makes the advertisers the most money. It’s obnoxious and is hurting our society.

Lanier has issues with some of the big companies — mainly Facebook, Google, and Twitter. And the companies owned by them, including WhatsApp and Instagram. I have to admit I’m confused by his disdain for WhatsApp, because they don’t do ads and the content of the messages is encrypted.

So where does that leave us? Yesterday I deleted my Facebook account … sort of. I’m trying to make a career out of writing, so I kept my blog’s Facebook page, which needs to have an administrator, so I created a new Facebook account that has no friends. I also deleted all the tweets from my personal account, and am now only posting things I write to @AKelmoreWrites on Twitter. I’d love to delete it all, but I also would love to figure out how to have a writing career, and the two things seem diametrically opposed.