ASK Musings

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CBR8 Archive

Thursday

29

December 2016

0

COMMENTS

My Year In Books

Written by , Posted in Reviews

At the end of each year I try to look back at the books I’ve read. This year I read 73 books, which is 15% more than my previous best of 63. I have Pajiba and the Cannonball Read to thank for this, because I know that if I hit 52 in a year that helps fund the fight against cancer. But because we also must review the books, it means I spend at least a few minutes reflecting on everything I read. It’s made me a better reader, it’s exposed me to books I wouldn’t have previously considered reading, and it’s introduced me to a lovely community of fellow readers.

So – what did my year look like?

Starting with the most obvious … I read a lot of white women authors. Nearly 60%, in fact. That’s not great. 20% of the books I read are the thoughts of white men, which means that just over 20% come from non-white authors. Most of those are women, but clearly I need to make a more concerted effort to read diverse voices. So next year’s goal: never read two white authors in a row.

Another yikes here – I read SO MANY books from authors who are from the USA. Eighty-six percent, to be precise.

Okay, this is much better. There are clearly some types I gravitate to, such as memoir and sociology. I like to learn about people and things, apparently. But look, there are 17 different genres or types of books on here, including a play, a collection of short stories, and even a cook book. And I know one of those memoirs was also a graphic novel, so that’s 18. That’s good!

Finally, how wisely did I choose my books?

Eh … not bad. Not great – a lot of middling books. But only a handful of bad choices and nothing so wretched that it earned the not-at-all coveted one star.

What can I do better for next year? I do not want to stop reading white women authors altogether, mostly because I just ordered Carrie Fisher’s entire catalogue. But I need to be more intentional in my choices of books, and step back more often to see if going on a ‘kick’ has really meant that I’m just reading a whole lot of the same type of author or book.

As far as my favorite book this year, my recommendations are:

Alright, on to Cannonball Read Nine!

Thursday

29

December 2016

0

COMMENTS

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Quick Take-Away:
On the cusp of four stars, but something didn’t click for me. The middle 350 pages or so really pulled me in, but I felt that the last 50 pages fell short.

Longer Review (with the mildest of spoilers):
The writing in this book is beautiful. I believe this is the first of Ms. Atkinson’s books I have read, but I gather she is someone known for her prose. The premise of the book, for those who are unfamiliar, is that Ursula is born in February of 1910 in England, and immediately dies. And then she is born again, but something slightly different keeps her alive. This replays over and over again, without any real sort of pattern that I could detect; we don’t always get to a certain age and start over, or always start at the same point, or even necessarily get clued into *exactly* what it is that she may have changed to prevent her death.

Ursula dies at least a couple dozen times if not more, and only a few of the storylines get in-depth treatment. One of the more fascinating stories is of her choosing to marry a German in the early 30s and what that leads to; a different route leads her into a bad marriage. There are also some moments that at the time seem important, but now that the book has ended I can’t figure out what purpose they served (was her mother having an affair in one of the storylines, and did it matter?).

I think the most frustrating component for me was that everything felt like it could be more developed – I wanted to see more connections, learn more about what Ursula was thinking and feeling that lead her to make a shift in her life that prevented her death. I just don’t think we got that, so even though I found myself sucked in, upon reflection I can’t quite recommend it to others.

Sunday

25

December 2016

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COMMENTS

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

(This is a review of the audio version)

I think I would have enjoyed this better in written form, because I had a hard time following along and staying interested to the audio version. Essays especially I think lend themselves well to paper (or electronic) versions because they can be read in chunks; the audio version for me meant stopping it a lot right in the middle, and not being able to listen again until I’d forgotten what I already heard.

That said, what I do recall I did enjoy. Ms. Rae is a writer and now actor (her show Insecure debuted on HBO this year) who tells a good story. This book is a memoir that covers her life in mostly chronological order. I chuckled a few times, and found her descriptions to be very vivid.

I can’t offer much more again because apparently I just didn’t absorb a lot from the audio version, but I do think I can recommend it, especially if you are enjoying her TV show or enjoyed the web series that preceded it.

Saturday

24

December 2016

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COMMENTS

I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Somehow, I hadn’t heard of Ms. Ajayi until a couple of months ago. Clearly, I have been missing out. Thankfully I learned of her via this great collection of essays.

When, after seeing the entertaining cover, someone asked what I was reading, I described it as a little bit silly but a lot serious. Some of the topic areas might be considered lighter fare, which is what I was expecting for the whole of the book (again, my fault, as I wasn’t familiar with the author). But it’s so much more than an amusing frolic through modern-day ways people act like asshats; it’s also a collection of essays on serious topics.

These topics benefit from Ms. Ajayi’s talented way with words; she can drop in a clever aside or snide remark into a very serious essay without breaking up the flow. It doesn’t lessen the impact; instead it reminds the reader that these issues are not so esoteric that we can’t all have a vested interested in addressing them.

Ms. Ajayi discusses rape culture, racism, religion, fame, feminism and more in this collection, and I felt I either related to or learned something from nearly every one. The only section where I felt some measure of disagreement (and it was such a tiny measure) was with her description of atheists. I appreciate that as an atheist I was already going to be a bit sensitive to what anyone says about this group, and others might read it and totally agree with her take on us. Regardless, even that bit was edifying to a degree.

I was expecting an entertaining etiquette book and instead got deep social criticism, and that ended up being exactly what I needed.

Saturday

10

December 2016

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COMMENTS

Bellevue by David Oshinsky

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Even if you don’t live in NYC, it’s possible you’ve heard of Bellevue hospital. If not by name, then by the stories told about it. It was the facility that treated the man who had Ebola in New York, and it is the one that had to evacuate patients in plastic medical sleds down over a dozen flights of stairs during Hurricane Sandy when the building lost power. And that’s just the headlines from the last five years.

Bellevue is a public hospital, providing care mostly to those who cannot pay or who other facilities will not see. It has been providing this care in some form or another since the 1700s, which, given how relatively young the U.S., is impressive as hell. It was on the front line of so many outbreaks, including the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. But it’s the stories from the 1700s and 1800s that I found to be especially fascinating. I know we’re all familiar with the fact that anesthesia didn’t used to exist (but amputations did), and that germ theory took a while to catch on, but reading the background behind these discoveries and their introductions, set against this amazing institutions history, is just incredible.

I’ve started a couple of large histories of medical conditions or healthcare facilities this year. I gave up on Emperor of All Maladies, and I’m struggling to get past the first chapter of Blood. However, this one, released just four weeks ago, was not hard to get through at all. If you have any interest in New York history, or medical history, or just good non-fiction, I think you will find this a worthwhile read.

Sunday

27

November 2016

0

COMMENTS

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

I will see any film if Anna Kendrick is involved. I’ve watched Pitch Perfect at least monthly since it was released on blu-ray (and three times in theaters before that); I watch videos online of her appearances on late night TV when I’m in a shit mood and need a boost. So obviously, I pre-ordered the shit out of this book.

It did not disappoint. Unfortunately, it came out a week after the election, so it is possible that it didn’t get the attention it deserved, since we are all (rightfully) freaking the fuck out about actual neo-Nazis in the White House. But if you need a mental health break from calling and writing your representatives, or marching in support of Black Lives Matter or protesting the DAPL, I would like to recommend this to you.

Her essays are laid out in (mostly) chronological order; some are quite intimate, but none delve into the uncomfortable. But the best part is that they all sound exactly like her – or at least the her we see in the media. I don’t know Ms. Kendrick, so theoretically this could all be an elaborately maintained ruse, but more than likely this is just an example of a clever, self-deprecating, strong but at times insecure woman living her life. Yes, she might have a job that is slightly more glamorous from the outside than, say, literally every other job, but she manages to make the challenges she faces as a well-known actress as relatable as her days with no money and no car trying to make it in Los Angeles.

I think the fact that she is incredibly self-aware helps. She doesn’t sell herself short in unbelievable ways, she doesn’t fish for pity or accolades, she is just sharing some stories that readers will find endearing or entertaining (and usually both).

Near the end of the book, she mentions writing a tell-all when she is 70 and done with her career. Again, I’d like to pre-order that one now, because if I’m alive then, I’m going to read that one, and I have no doubt it will be delicious.

Monday

14

November 2016

0

COMMENTS

Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett

Written by , Posted in Feminism, Politics, Reviews

Four Stars

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I’m still so angry that I’m surprised I could focus long enough to finish this book. I started it right before the election, and finished it this weekend, in between quietly (I was visiting family) screaming at Twitter and just generally being pissed at how racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic and just plain shitty so many people are in this country.

But I digress.

This is a useful book right now, as we all know that the sexists who may have been thinly veiled already are starting to show their asses even more. It is focused specifically on workplace sexism, which is perfect because the rules of engagement in that arena differ from, say, figuring out whether you want to kick directly in the balls the man who grabbed your arm on a street corner. It’s a more challenging environment, because how you react to the sexism can ultimately hurt you. Which is bullshit, but still true.

Ms. Bennett breaks the book down into six sections: Know the Enemy, Know Thyself, Booby Traps, Get Your Speak On, F You Pay Me, and What Would Josh Do. Each section takes on a different component of workplace misogyny, describing the problem and then offering some realistic and varying ways of responding. She isn’t telling us that every solution will work each time; she’s helping us build our arsenal so that we have the right weapon to deploy at the right time.

I am lucky in that my actual office is not particularly sexist. My team is more women than men, my boss is a woman (and so is her boss, and her boss’s boss, who happens to also be the head of the agency). However, outside my workplace, I am in a field full of not just men, but a lot of men in traditionally ‘manly’ roles – police, fire, military – which can include some … let’s go with ‘outdated’ actions and statements. While I’m not looking forward to needing to use the advice in this book, I am looking forward to using it effectively.

I think this is a great gift book to any young woman in your life who is entering the work force, or any woman currently in the work force, or any man in the work force (because they need to know what we are facing).

Friday

4

November 2016

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COMMENTS

You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

I was lucky enough to learn about Phoebe Robinson when a friend recommended I listen to Two Dope Queens, the comedy podcast she hosts with Jessica Williams (of The Daily Show fame). She is a stand-up comedian and writer, and You Can’t Touch My Hair is her first book. It’s a collection of essays that take on topics as varied as black hair, guilty pleasures, and advice for her niece.

I write in my books, and I found myself underlining a lot in this one. I wasn’t just underlining the funny one-liners that had me chuckling out loud; mostly I was marking up her social commentary. Her chapter on “The Angry Black Woman Myth” should be required reading for white people. She also weighs in on the challenges people of color face in the entertainment industry, illustrating that section with sample composite casting calls that are both hilarious and deeply fucked up.

I could probably sit with this so I can provide a more thorough review, but I want to get this up there in case someone is looking for their next good read. If you like good writing, and serious issues discussed with a clever, strong voice, I think you’ll enjoy this one.

Also, check out the 2 Dope Queens podcast.

Thursday

27

October 2016

0

COMMENTS

Nobody Was Watching: My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World by Carli Lloyd and Wayne Coffey

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

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A memoir. Written by a woman. About soccer. I’m surprised my local book store didn’t just automatically set it aside for me. This shit is my jam.

If you aren’t a fan of women’s soccer (and if you enjoy sports, you should check it out), you probably hadn’t heard of Carli Lloyd before last summer. She’s been playing for the US Women’s National Team since the early 2000s, but she stepped hard into the spotlight during the World Cup in Canada last year, when she scored three times in the final win over Japan, including a shot basically from mid-field.

Of the memoirs I’ve read recently that involve a co-writer, this one reads the smoothest. I don’t know Ms. Lloyd, and I haven’t seen her interviewed much, but the voice, while a bit stiff, feels genuine. The book follows her journey from player in her New Jersey hometown, through college, and into her professional career. It has much more soccer in it than Abbi Wambach’s memoir from earlier this year, and I loved that. Ms. Lloyd also discusses some of the same incidents that Ms. Wambach did, with a different perspective, which is fascinating for someone like me.

Ms. Lloyd is dedicated as hell, a hard worker, and talented. She says repeatedly she doesn’t like drama, but also says she tells it like it is, and in my experience drama and a lack of desire to choose one’s words carefully almost always go hand in hand. At the same time, I do think Ms. Lloyd is self-aware; she is open about her flaws and how they have impacted her life, especially her relationship with her immediate family (spoiler alert: it’s not a good one).

If you like sports and a bit of an underdog story, I think you’ll like this. But if you don’t enjoy sports, I think there might just be too much technical discussion for this to be a good read.

Monday

3

October 2016

0

COMMENTS

In The Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero with Michelle Burford

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

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The Story
I want to start this review with a discussion of the story Ms. Guerrero tells. It is a fascinating, interesting, sweet and inspirational story. You likely know Ms. Guerrero from her roles on Jane the Virgin and Orange is the New Black – she’s tiny, Colombian and talented as hell. A couple of years ago, she shared that her parents had been deported after authorities learned they were undocumented. This left Ms. Guerrero – then 14 and a US citizen – to essentially fend for herself.

We learn about her childhood, which included fears that deportation might come. But reading it happen – and recognizing that the US government either didn’t know or didn’t care that their actions left a 14-year-old with nowhere to live – infuriated me. I was pissed on her behalf, mad at an immigration system that does this to thousands of families ever year. I was also impressed with her ability to finish high school, enroll in college, and eventual deal with unaddressed issues that her parents’ deportation had created inside her.

We also learn about how she made her way into acting as well as her decision to get publicly involved in immigration reform and other political issues. It’s a compelling tale but it wasn’t an entirely positive reading experience, as the second half of my review will explain.

The Telling
When you were in school, did you ever have the dreaded ‘group project?’ You know, the one where someone wouldn’t do anything, someone would do too much, and the rest of the group just tried to get a word in? And did any of those group projects involve a group PAPER? The way Ms. Guerrero’s story is told feels a bit like a group paper where one person did most of the writing, but someone else insisted on interjecting in each section. And their interjections might even be good (or perhaps better than the bulk of the paper), but they just don’t … flow? That’s how this book reads.

I didn’t realize until the acknowledgments that Ms. Guerrero had a co-author assist her. Ms. Burford has assisted a few other memoirists, so she seems like a good fit for this project; unfortunately, this book is a case where the two authors just don’t seem to have found a good flow or fit. I don’t know how much of this is Ms. Guerrero’s work and how much is Ms. Burford’s; did Ms. Guerrero tell her the story and Ms. Burford write it? Did Ms. Guerrero write it but Ms. Burford filled in some of the information to build out a longer story? Something else entirely? I don’t know, but I feel like it could have benefited from some stronger editing and cohesion.

There are certain things that come up – such as Ms. Guerrero’s depression and the serious ramifications – seemingly out of the blue, and are handled in a couple of pages without a lot of exploration. And I’m not saying she needs to provide more detail than she does; it’s more that the detail provided is so specific and jarring that it stands out. There’s no build or come down – it’d be like watching Law & Order with 30 seconds of Hairspray cut in, then returning right back to Law & Order. There’s nothing off or bad about either, but you’d probably be wondering what the hell that was about. Many chapters left me feeling that way.