ASK Musings

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CBR10 Archive

Friday

20

April 2018

0

COMMENTS

Things That Make White People Uncomfortable by Michael Bennett

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Five Stars

Best for: Anyone interested in a compelling story about how a professional athlete lives his values.

In a nutshell: Former (sniff) Seattle Seahawk and current Philadelphia Eagle team member Michael Bennett shares his prospective on a wide range of topics, including the NCAA, the NFL, racism, and sexism.

Line that sticks with me:
“They also tell us to stick to sports when we speak out on issues. But they don’t seem to have a problem when we’re making commercials, selling their kids sneakers they can’t afford or fast food that will give them colon cancer.”
“But none of this is new, and we shouldn’t pretend it is. Racists may be more confident now because of who is in the White House, but it’s been there all along.”
“I think their real reason for calling me a liar is their whole worldview is built around the idea that racism in policing doesn’t exist. They would rather live in the comfort of that fiction than be forced to confront the uncomfortable truth: that racial profiling is a reality.”
“I realized that I wouldn’t be the person I aspire to be if I called out injustice here at home and just stopped at our border. It doesn’t work that way.”

Why I chose it: I mean, a former Seahawk writing about things like social justice? Sign me up.

Review:
I grew up loving professional football. I was a 49ers fan, and got to attend many games growing up. However, I didn’t watch a single game in the 2017-2018 season, because of how the league treated Colin Kaepernick. I wrote about my decision here.

But living in Seattle, it was impossible to avoid news of the Seahawks, and Michael Bennett (until recently) was a major piece of that team. So when I heard he was writing a book — and with Dave Zirin, whose work I’ve reviewed before — I knew I had to pick it up. Saw it at the airport before returning to London this week, and I’ve not been able to put it down.

This book has so many insights, it was hard to limit the number of quotes to share above. Mr. Bennett talks openly about how hard college life is for ‘student-athletes’ (who he says would more accurately be called ‘athlete-students’), how the NCAA and universities don’t give a shit about their players. He talks about life in the NFL, and the fear of CTE and how poorly retired players are treated. He shares how important the brotherhood of the Seahawks locker room has been in his growth as a player and a Black man.

He covers many topics I expected him to, like the racism inherent in calling the NFL team owners ‘owners’ when so many of the employees are Black, or Mr. Bennett’s involvement in the anthem protests. In fact, the preface could stand alone as a wonderful essay on the need to stand up (or, in this case, sit down) for what’s right. But he also talks about things like the importance of access to healthful food, or his thoughts on Palestine, or the importance of forgiveness, which I wasn’t expecting.

I think this is a book anyone with an opinion on the role of college or professional athletes should read. I also think this is a good book for anyone who is looking for inspiration to keep fighting injustice.

Note: Mr. Bennett was charged in late March with assaulting someone working security at the Super Bowl in 2017 (a felony, because the person is over 65). I find it hard to believe that the incident went down as suggested in the indictment; I’m especially suspect because of the way the Houston police chief shared it (Google the press conference if you’re interested). Mr. Bennett’s attorney has said: “He just flat-out didn’t do it. It wasn’t a case of, ‘He didn’t shove her that hard,’ or anything like that. … He never touched her.” That said, I wasn’t there, so if that’s something that might affect your interest in picking up this book, I wanted to put it out there.

Wednesday

18

April 2018

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COMMENTS

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

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Best for: People who enjoy Tiffany Haddish

In a nutshell: Comedian and actor Tiffany Haddish shares stories – some hilarious, some serious – from her life.

Worth quoting:
“I try to forgive him. I really do try to find a place of forgiveness in my heart for him. That shit is hard, though.”

Why I chose it: I was about to board a nine-hour flight, and thought this would be a good choice for helping the time pass quickly. I was right.

Review:
Some memoirs by famous folks are co-written by someone who has more experience writing books. Ms. Haddish employed Tucker Max to assist, but I didn’t even realize it until I read the acknowledgments at the end. That is to say: this book sounds exactly like Tiffany Haddish.

Some of the chapters in this book are fantastic. Ms. Haddish is a great storyteller, and that isn’t limited to traditionally ‘funny’ fare. Her deep honesty around past relationships, and her recognition of how hard it is to understand why she returned to her abusive ex husband make the serious stories as enthralling as the funny ones. She’s been through some shit, and she doesn’t seem to hold back in sharing it all with us.

That said, I think others enjoyed this book more than I did, and I might not be being fair in my review when I say that the way she writes about her date with Roscoe (who lives in a group home and has an arm that didn’t fully develop) left me … unimpressed. That’s not to say that I think it was mean. In fact, I think Ms. Haddish comes across throughout as a very sweet woman. But I think she just missed the mark in how she told that book, and it kind of took the wind out of the second half for me. I also didn’t appreciate how she seems deeply insulted by the idea of anyone being fat. For me, that’s such a ridiculous thing to still be employing for laughs / insults that I get especially annoyed when I see it from someone who is a very smart comedian.

Saturday

7

April 2018

0

COMMENTS

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

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Four Stars

Best for: Those looking for a quick read about complicated relationships.

In a nutshell: Frances is a 21-year-old college student who writes poetry and performs it with her best friend / ex-girlfriend Bobbi. They meet writer Melissa, and her actor husband Nick, who is quite appealing to Frances. Events transpire.

Worth quoting:
“I didn’t know how to join in their new friendship without debasing myself for their attention.”
“Realising not only that hurting Bobbi’s feelings was within my power but that I had done it practically offhandedly and without noticing, made me uncomfortable.”
“I thought of myself as an independent person, so independent that the opinions of others were irrelevant to me.”

Why I chose it: I was at a Waterstones and picked the book up (it was prominently displayed on a table). The review pull quote across the top said “Fearless, sensual writing.” I immediately put it down, because I’ve not ever found myself enjoying writing that I would characterise as ‘sensual.’ The shop manager noticed and spent the next two minutes trying to sell me on the book, and to ignore that quote. I acquiesced, and am happy I did so.

Review:
Author Sally Rooney has an interesting way with words. With this book, she is able to create characters that I don’t think we’re meant to root for or against, but to just be interested in. The book is told from Frances’s first person perspective, so the other three main characters come to us through that lens, and it’s clear that we’re meant to recognize that what Frances is telling us isn’t everything there is to know about them. And I don’t mean this in an ‘unreliable narrator’ / ‘there’s a mystery to be solved’ sort of way, just that with Ms. Rooney’s writing, I feel that she understands how little we all know about the people in our lives.

The book centers around the ideas of love and relationships. The primary focus at times seems to be romantic relationships, but I think the book also does a good job at looking at friendships as well as relationships with our families of origin. How much do we choose to share of ourselves with our partners? Our parents? How do we make those calculations? How do those relationships shape us? How much do we re-frame and reformulate those relationships as a way to help us understand ourselves?

Frances’s character develops over time, and you can see her taking more steps to get to know who she is. In some moments its easy to forget that she’s still in college and has to sort out the big life questions like ‘what do I want to be when I grow up,’ and I think that’s mostly due to Ms. Rooney’s writing. Yes, there are some eye-roll-worthy moments that those of us who have been out of college for many years might look at and think ‘awww, I remember debating that in the pub. How sweet,’ but Ms. Rooney doesn’t condescend to her characters. Frances and Bobbi are younger than I am (I’m not quite old enough to be Frances’s mother, but I could be her aunt) but they aren’t acting especially immature, at least not in unexpected ways. I think they’re relatable, even if the actions they’re taking aren’t ones I’d necessarily take.

So thanks, Waterstones bookseller. I DID like it!

Thursday

5

April 2018

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COMMENTS

Dear Madam President by Jennifer Palmieri

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Three Stars

Best for: Those looking for a quick read that’s mostly about Hillary Clinton’s run for president.

In a nutshell: This is “An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World.” But it’s more a short retelling of some parts of the Clinton 2016 Presidential Campaign framed around the idea that it’s a letter to the first woman to be US President.

Worth quoting:
“I have always thought that I could do any job a man can do just as well as him. Only recently have I come to realize that I don’t want to. I want to do the job the best way I can do it, not the way he would.”
“Yes, I’m sure you loved her concession speech. Because that’s what you think is acceptable for a woman to do — concede.”
“We have no idea what beneficial qualities we might be stifling in ourselves as long as we continue to follow an outdated set of behavioral rules that were designed to permit women to play a niche role in a workplace built for men.”

Why I chose it: I heard the author speak on the Rachel Maddow show, and the excerpt shared sounded interesting.

Review:
The concept behind this book is a good one, but I’m not sure the execution worked for me. The book is 175 pages, but each page is probably half the size of a standard hardcover book, so it’s a very quick read — I started it at 9:30 PM last night and finished it just after 11 PM. It moved me, and it frustrated me, and it angered me. So in that respect, it certainly got me thinking.

But I think it’s a bit of false advertising. It’s really a short review of the Clinton campaign, with a few anecdotes from the author’s time in the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama White Houses. The author means to take lessons from the campaign and share them with readers (specifically, woman), but after sleeping on it and thinking about it more today, I think the concept wasn’t realized in as strong a way as it could have been.

There are clear nuggets of wisdom in here, and there are interesting stories that illustrate them. But I think the book would have worked better for me if there had been more concrete suggestions. Or fewer. It’s in the middle space for me, where the book is not long enough to dive deeply into this issues, but is too long to be a tight booklet with a more coherent message.

The overall idea is that we (women) need to stop looking at the way men do things and aim to be like them; instead, we need to be like us. I don’t disagree that women are judged differently (and Ms. Palmieri certainly provides loads of great examples of this), but something about this premise felt as though it were lumping ‘how women act’ into one bucket, and I’m not okay with that.

I do think the book is worth a read, and I’d be interested in reading what other women think after reading it.

Wednesday

4

April 2018

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COMMENTS

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

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4 Stars

Best for: Anyone interested in getting swept up in a bit of period drama.

In a nutshell: Two sisters deal with the loss of their father and the change in lifestyle that follows, while trying to sort out their love lives.

Worth quoting:
“I am afraid that the pleasantness of an employment does not always evince its propriety.”

Why I chose it: The cover, honestly. This lovely cloth cover drew my attention in a bookshop a few weeks ago, and I figured why not finally pick it up.

Review:
The book was originally published over 200 years ago, but just the same … SPOILERS!

I claim on Good Reads to have read Pride and Prejudice, but I don’t think I have (odd, I know, and I’ll be correcting that). The cover of the film version of Sense and Sensibility has flashed on Netflix as I’ve skimmed through options over the years, but I’ve never watched it (until now – it’s playing as I write this review*). I share that only to say that because of that, I had Emma Thompson in my mind as I read Elinor, and Kate Winslet as I read Marianne. But I didn’t know the rest of the cast, so luckily my imagination was able to fill in the rest of the characters.

It took me a little bit to get into this; I don’t read fiction often, and I read fiction from the 19th century even less often, so the writing took me some time to adjust to. That said, by about fifty pages in, I was engrossed. Unfortunately, because I wasn’t entirely understanding what I was reading (beyond picking up that Franny Dashwood is a conniving snot and her husband is a wimp), the whole Edward-Elinor pairing completely slipped my mind. When he was mentioned again much later on (as his engagement is revealed by Lucy), I was confused why Elinor would even care. So that’s a big whoops on my part.

I did enjoy that characters were developed and shown to be a bit more complex (not always, although often) than they originally seemed. That said … I don’t understand why anyone’s opinion should be moved by Willoughby’s big confession to Elinor when he thinks Marianne is dying. Like, I guess the fact that his wife dictated the shitty letter matters, but I didn’t see anything in what he said that changed anything. Did I just miss something? Or was that whole reveal meant to just endear us even more to Elinor and her willingness to find the good in people? It just seemed unnecessary to me.

Overall, I’m glad I read it. Up next, per a friend’s suggestion, is Persuasion; after that I’ll go with Mansfield Park, and eventually work my way around to Pride and Prejudice.

*The casting in this film is BRILLIANT. I actually squealed when I saw Gemma Jones was Elinor and Marianne’s mother. AND ALAN RICKMAN JUST SHOWED UP!

Monday

2

April 2018

0

COMMENTS

The Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises by Adam Campbell

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2 Stars

 

Best for: Women interested in strength training who aren’t overwhelmed with a million (733, to be specific) options.

In a nutshell: Author Campbell provides an overview of lifting, a diet plan (boo), and chapters with body-part-specific target exercises.

Line that sticks with me:
“So whether you’re toting groceries or holding a baby, you’ll notice the difference.” Really, dude? Women use their arms for two things: shopping or children? Awesome.

Why I chose it: I’ve been consistent with my non-strength exercise for many years (running, elliptical, long walks), but haven’t really done much focused strength training in quite a while. Plus, I had a gift certificate to the shop where I found this one.

Review:
When I started this review, I planned to give the book three stars, but after considering it further, I’ve bumped it down to two.

There are components of it did like. There are workout plans, and there are detailed images. I’ve already tried one of the Back workouts (and learned that not only can I not do a chin-up, I can’t even jump to one and lower myself down) and the Quads / Calves. The latter was good. When I get back from a vacation I’m taking in a couple of weeks, I’m going to jump into the “Get Your Body Back” collection of exercises, because, as I said, I haven’t done strength training in awhile. So at the very basic level, this book is as advertised.

Now, let’s talk through what bothered me about this book.

First, every person in the book is TINY. Like, there is variety in ethnicity of the women showing the moves, but it seems as thought the person responsible for staging the photography thinks the only people who do strength training are a size 2-4 with no boobs. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that body type, but come one. There are strong women who are larger than Keira Knightly; perhaps a few of them could be featured?

Next, there are a probably too many exercise options. I fully get that I bought a book that is literally called the “Big Book of Exercises,” but there’s a difference between a dozen exercises per body area and over ninety. It’s just a lot, and it all blurs together. I think it’s possible it could have been better edited to not seem so overwhelming, but this version? Not so much.

Third, the sections on nutrition are pretty generic and a little blech. There’s even a part with a heading called “Why Diets Work.” The text below talks about why nutrition is a necessary component of changing your weight, but come on. Anyone who has read any studies knows that for the vast, vast majority of people, diets don’t do anything good, and often do very bad things. It’s disheartening to see that in a book ostensibly from a health magazine.

Fourth, the marketing of the book. The subtitle is “Four Weeks to a Leaner, Sexier, Healthier YOU!” Again, blech. I’m sexy as I am, thanks. Would it have been so hard to just replace those words with things like ‘stronger?’ Also, is it just me, or is the photo-shopping of the lovely cover woman just a bit too uncanny valley?

And finally, it bugged me that this book was written by a guy. I’m sure there are plenty of women out there who could compile a bunch of exercises, and I wish Women’s Health magazine would support those women. Also, at the end of many chapters are suggested workouts, which I appreciate, but again — full of guys. Seriously, I thought maybe I was misremembering, but I just flipped through and the one time a name stuck out that I thought might belong to a woman or non-binary person, nope. Still a dude.

Tuesday

27

March 2018

0

COMMENTS

Misogynation: The True Scale of Sexism by Laura Bates

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Three Stars

Best for: Those looking for some (usually UK-based) facts and figures about sexism women face, in short essay form.

In a nutshell: Creator of Everyday Sexism Project Bates shares her thoughts on a few different ways women deal with misogyny in their daily lives.

Worth quoting:
“The repeated use of the word ‘distracting’ centres the needs of men and boys above those of the girls, and suggests that girls’ bodies are powerful and dangerous, impacting on boys and teachers, whose behaviour is implicitly excused as inevitable.”
“If you suggest that someone who is experiencing it shuts down their social media accounts or stops speaking out, you’re suggesting their freedom should be curtailed because of someone else’s abusive behavior. In fact, you are unintentionally helping the abuser.”
“You can’t judge a woman on her weight AND get angry if she orders a salad — that’s just counter-intuitive. Try to work out in advance which sexist stereotype is most important to you, and stick with it.”

Why I chose it: I read her previous book and enjoyed it.

Review: This book is pretty good. I didn’t find it to be as well done as her previous book, but still worth a read. It is a collection of previously-published material, and while it was all new to me (I’m not sure where they appeared — perhaps on her website? As guest editorials? Or maybe she has her own column in a paper here?), it does seem to be a bit of cheat to fill an entire book with previous content, add in maybe ten very short introductory chapters before each grouping, and then still charge full price. Perhaps that’s a standard publishing idea, and I’m certainly not mad at her for getting paid, I just was looking for something a bit deeper with this.

That said, many of the sections are strong reads. Much of what she writes about won’t be news to women, or to men who are paying attention, but I do think it still rises beyond 101-level feminism. And, as I’ve said before, 101-level isn’t bad, it’s just not usually what I’m looking for in a book. I appreciate the effort put into grouping the essays into related content, and I also appreciate the humour Ms. Bates brings to what can be an overwhelming and depressing topic. It wasn’t a slog to read through this book, which itself is a bit of a feat considering the subject.

One side note – I really wish authors would stop having Caitlin Moran blurb their books. She’s said so many problematic things about race, and about trans people (and without any sort of remorse or apology that I’ve ever found – but as always, I’d be happy to be shown otherwise). She’s like the Lena Dunham of authors. And there are just so many more interesting feminists I’d like to hear from, even on book covers.

Monday

19

March 2018

0

COMMENTS

The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer

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Four Stars

Best for: Anyone wanting to learn more about the (interesting!) minutia and day-to-day bits of life during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign.

In a nutshell: Author Ian Mortimer has researched source documents, including personal journals and diaries, as well as other sources to provide details about what it really meant to live in Elizabethan England.

Worth quoting:
“A woman may travel, pray, write, and generally go about her affairs just as freely as a man — as long as she is not married.”
“But it is the mass production of books in English that prompts the shift to a more literary culture, not printing itself.”
“At Christmas the wealthy are expected to entertain the less fortunate members of society.”

Why I chose it: It seems my books choices this year are: I live in England now and want to learn; I don’t have a job and need to figure out what I’m doing with my life; and Other. This is the first one.

Review:
This book took me FOREVER to read, but that’s because the information is so interesting and densely packed. I only found myself skimming a few parts; the rest was just fascinating. I’ve always wondered about the daily life in past time periods; most of what I know comes from either a short bit in a world history text book, or from movies. This book was just what I wanted.

Mr. Mortimer covers pretty much everything I’d wanted to learn about – he talks about the people, the role religion plays, the ethics and morals of the people, essentials (including money, which I still don’t really get), clothing, traveling, housing, food, illness, crime, and entertainment. Wherever possible, he includes details from diaries or letters written by someone who lived during this time.

I found the food, illness, and clothing sections the most interesting, but generally skimmed the entertainment section mostly because I was getting anxious and just wanted to finish the book (I might go back and read it again later). If you’re into history, I think you’ll probably enjoy this one.

Tuesday

13

March 2018

0

COMMENTS

Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

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Three Stars

Best for: Anyone at a bit of a crossroads in life, trying to figure out their next career move.

In a nutshell: The creators of the Designing Your Life workshops and program at Stanford offer their tips and process for figuring out options for your career, using design as the basis.

Worth quoting:
“If it’s not actionable, it’s not a problem”
“There is no one idea for your life. There are many lives you could live happily and productively (no matter how many years old you are).”

Why I chose it:
I’m in a new country with no job and some time to figure things out. The hardcover version of this book caught my eye multiple times, although I hesitated to buy it. I probably should have stuck with my instincts.

Review:
This is not a bad book. There is a lot of good advice in it, and I think that it may very well work. I’m just not sure that I have what is necessary to really implement their suggestions. And by “what is necessary,” I mean energy. Because there is a lot to do here. And it makes sense — we’re talking about figuring out career options that are actually feasible, and that’s a big part of life for many people. But at one point when they give an example of success in sorting things out coming after TWO HUNDRED conversations with individuals.

I just — even without a job, how on earth am I going to connect with two hundred people? I just … no.

That said, there are some good take-aways, like exercises to help you sort out what matters to you in life and in work, and how to think about how your career aligns with your values. The authors are also clear that there is no one right answer for any of us; the point of designing our lives is to come up with ideas, options, and possible paths and then test them out a bit before jumping in completely.

I jammed through the first few chapters then felt myself just sort of stuck. I don’t know if I’m lazy (unlikely), or realistic about what will work with me (possible), or what, but this just wasn’t the right book for me.

Sunday

11

March 2018

0

COMMENTS

A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton

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Four Stars

Best for: Anyone interested in an introduction to ideas from western philosophy, starting with Socrates and Plato.

In a nutshell: Philosopher (and podcaster) Nigel Warburton spends 40 chapters exploring the one or two main hallmarks of different western philosophers.

Worth quoting:
“Philosophers challenge dogma. They ask why people believe what they do, what sorts of evidence they have to support their conclusions.”

Why I chose it:
I was feeling a little nostalgic about my days studying philosophy. That program was only a year, and pretty focused on certain areas, so I only have a passing understanding of many of the big western thinkers.

Review:
I’m going to say this upfront: the western philosophy that professors often choose to teach in school is populated by dudes. White dudes. That is evident clearly in this book, which includes only four women (two of whom are in the same chapter, and one of whom shares a chapter with two dudes). In the 40 chapters there are probably between 50 and 60 philosophers discussed, so yeah. That’s not great at all.

With that said, the ideas that many of these philosophers have explored are fascinating to think through. While I’d heard of nearly all the folks discussed in the six or seven page overviews, I enjoyed getting a condensed version of their beliefs. It’s not enough to have serious, thoughtful dialog about, but it is enough to get one thinking.

I probably enjoyed the chapters that discussed figures I studied more than the other chapters, just because it got me thinking back to my time in school and how much I enjoyed those conversations and debate (and how much I think Kant is just … wrong). It got me excited to do some more philosophy reading in the near future.

If philosophy is something you think you might be interested in, I recommend this book. I think Mr. Warburton is generally pretty fair in his analyses and descriptions, so you can take what interests you and then pursue further readings in those areas.