ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

CBR9 Archive

Tuesday

23

May 2017

0

COMMENTS

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: Anyone looking for a profile of an interesting man doing something unthinkable to most of us.

In a nutshell: Man lives alone in the woods for nearly three decades, uttering words to only one person. Gets arrested.

Line that sticks with me: “He parked the car and put the keys on the center console. He had a tent and a backpack but no compass, no map. Without knowing where he was going, with no particular place in mind, he stepped into the trees and walked away.” (p 77)

Why I chose it: NPR.

Review: Christopher Knight was 20 years old when he abandoned his car and walked deep into a forest in Maine. He was 57 when arrested for breaking into a camp to steal food. This is the story of the 27 years in between, a bit of what came first, and more of what came next.

Author Michael Finkel has written a book before; you might recognize his name from his being fired for essentially making up a story (he says he combined a bunch of people to make a composite without saying so). I was not familiar with that background, but even knowing that, I believe what he is sharing in this profile of Christopher Knight, aka the Hermit. Over 27 years, Mr. Knight lived just a few minutes from other people, but was so fully hidden and so committed to being alone that the only person who saw him for nearly 25 years was a hiker he accidentally crossed paths with.

This story is fascinating to me. On the one hand, this man desperately wanted to be alone, to be away from everyone else, ideally for the rest of his life. But he didn’t choose the strict survivalist route: he stole. And although he followed a strict code when stealing from others, never taking anything that appeared valuable, always going into what he thought were empty houses, for nearly three decades some families were terrified that this burglar would come into their home (and he often did repeatedly) when they were there.

Mr. Finkel does a great job telling this story, about a person it can be difficult to understand. He also provides some background and context to the idea of a hermit – people who leave all of society for years at a time, if not longer. He also provides room for all of us to contemplate what happens when someone like Mr. Knight is forced back into society. Is there space in this world for someone who wants to be all alone, forever? Should there be?

Tuesday

16

May 2017

0

COMMENTS

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for: Anyone looking for a riveting read.

In a nutshell: 16-year-old Starr Carter is in the car when her friend is killed by a police officer.

Line that sticks with me: “Claim folks need to act peaceful, but rolling through here like we in a goddamn war.” (pg 211)

Why I chose it: I’ve been hearing loads of people talk about it.

Review: Holy shit. 444 pages. Started yesterday morning on the walk to work, finished it this morning on the walk to work. I wanted to read it everywhere, and was mildly annoyed that my job got in the way.

This young adult book masterfully covers about a million different topics, and covers them well. What’s it like to be one of the only Black students in a private white high school? What is it like to have rival gangs in your neighborhood? What is it like to have to navigate who you are depending on the company you are around? What is it like for a Black teen to date a white teen? How do you handle it when you see your friend shot and killed in front of you? Do protests work? What purpose do they serve, especially when they can damage those who are already so hurt?

There’s so much to discover in this book, and so many layers. Starr is a well-developed heroine, but so are all of the supporting characters. From her two brothers, to her friends at school to her friends in her neighborhood, her uncle who is also a cop. Everyone has depth and serves their own purpose, not just Starr’s.

I think I was most impressed with two parts: the evolution of Starr’s relationships with her school and neighborhood friends, and the handling of Starr’s sharing the story of that night. I don’t want to give too much away, but Ms. Thomas does a fantastic job of illustrating why people might act in a way that we think we wouldn’t unless faced with that situation.

I loved this book. Loved it.

Monday

8

May 2017

0

COMMENTS

Eggshells by Caitriona Lally

Written by , Posted in Reviews

2 Stars

Best for: People who like a whole lot of randomness in their novels.

In a nutshell: Woman who was likely abused when a child believes she’s a fairy and travels Dublin searching for her real home.

Line that sticks with me: “A politician is calling on another politician to do something. I would like to call on someone to do something but I don’t know if anyone would listen.”

Why I chose it: On independent bookstore day in Seattle, I visited 19 bookstores. Many were giving away mystery books wrapped in brown paper. These were galleys they’d received to determine if they’d carry a book. This is one of three I picked up throughout the day.

Review: The reviews on the back of this book trouble me a bit, as I feel like they are treating the main character, Vivian, as though she is simply quirky, when in truth she appears to instead be experiencing some form of mental illness that could likely benefit from some assistance. So much of her time is taken up searching for entrances to the fairy world to which she belongs. She was also likely abused by her now-deceased parents and treated very poorly by her living sister, but this isn’t explored deeply as Vivian is our narrator.

Author Caitriona Lally is talented with her prose and invokes very specific images – and smells – in the reader. As someone who has visited Dublin a fair number of times I did enjoy the recognition I felt in many of the places Vivian visited. There were certain aspects of Vivian’s personality and thinking that I could relate to, and all of it I could to some degree understand; I just don’t think the book as a whole worked well for me.

I almost gave this book three stars, but I think it needed either much more or much less; it didn’t work for me as an average-length work of fiction.

Sunday

7

May 2017

0

COMMENTS

Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: People looking for a personal growth book that wraps all of the big ideas into one fancy-feeling book.

In a nutshell: Different ways of looking at how to treat yourself well – body, mind and spirit.

Line that sticks with me: “Think about whether the choice will matter to you in a year.”

Why I chose it: I was in one of those stores that sells a lot of cool-looking things for the home (pillows, candles, clever cards), and this book looked and felt like a fun read.

Review: There is nothing wrong with this book. In fact, I think that 22-year-old me might have gained a lot from reading it. I like the author’s focus on being kind to yourself and not focusing on a lot of things we cannot do (there’s no “don’t eat after 10 PM”-style rules). I like that she doesn’t just look at food and movement, but at feelings and even our values.

I just didn’t feel like there was anything new in here save for the fact that it’s all together in one book. If you’re relatively young, or have never read any sort of personal growth book but are having some struggles with your life, you could certainly do worse than this book.

Sunday

7

May 2017

0

COMMENTS

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for: Those who have been sucked into the Hamilton zeitgeist; those who are interested in learning more about creative genius.

In a nutshell: Annotated lyrics to Hamilton interspersed with stories from the development of the show and spotlights on original cast members.

Line that sticks with me: “I think it’s unfair o ask actors to go onstage and expose themselves with anything less that what he calls ‘ultimate support.’”

Why I chose it: Because it’s Hamilton.

Review: I enjoy musical theater. I’m not a fanatic, but I have been known to sing along to On My Own from Les Miserables in my car more times than I can count. I put the Thoroughly Modern Millie soundtrack on in the background when I’m working. And I own the original cast recording of Hamilton on vinyl (along with Patty Lupone’s Evita).

I came to the Hamilton phenomenon a little later than most, but before some others. I’ve still not seen it, but I have tickets for the tour when it arrives in Seattle in February 2018 (on Valentine’s Day, actually). I ran around giddy when the Mixtape ended up released at 9PM instead of midnight (yay west coast!), and of course I watched the PBS special.

This book was a delight to read. I started it on Saturday afternoon and finished it up after lunch on Sunday. I didn’t want to put it down. The notations on the lyrics provide lovely insight into the choices an artist makes, but the real story lies with the chapters that follow the development of the show, from a concept album through the full-blown Broadway blockbuster it is today. The stories about the original stars provide some insight into people who all of a sudden are household names in a way that many stage actors never are.

But what I think I found most interesting were the stories about the nitty gritty – the costume design, the stage production, the choreography. My husband has maybe listened to the soundtrack once, but even he didn’t mind when I kept interrupting him with a new amazing nugget I’d learned about the behind-the-scenes world. And the section about “It’s Quiet Uptown” – devastating.

I can’t imagine that anyone who is interested in the musical hasn’t at least added it to their to be read pile, but if there are any holdouts, there’s no need. Check it out.

Saturday

6

May 2017

0

COMMENTS

There’s Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say by Paula Poundstone

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: People who enjoy Paula Poundstone on Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me.

In a nutshell: Comedian shares details of her life – including the time when she was convicted of endangering her children – against the backdrop of historical biographies. Seriously.

Line that sticks with me: I listened to the audio book, so I can’t quote directly, but I, too, was a girl cast as Peter Quince in an elementary school production of Midsummer Nights’ Dream.

Why I chose it: Ms. Poundstone has a new book out, which I was hoping would be available on audio. It is not yet, but this one was, and so I picked it up.

Review: I started listening to this book this morning on my run, and kept it going all morning as I cleaned up, did chores, painted my nails. It was fun to listen to, engaging, and generally a good way to stay entertained on a Saturday when I have things to do but don’t want to listen to music.

Ms. Poundstone is regularly featured on Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me on NPR; I also saw her stand-up show in Seattle a few years ago. I’ve found her mostly endearing, and was definitely surprised when she was charged with, among other things, ‘lewd acts with a minor’ many years ago. She addresses the arrest and sentencing in the book (the lewd act charge was dropped; she was punished instead for endangering her children by driving drunk with them in the car), allowing for the seriousness of it all while reflecting on some of the more absurd parts.

What makes the whole book kind of odd, but in a good way, is that each of the seven chapters intertwines parts of her story with the biography of an historical figure. Joan of Arc, Beethoven, Helen Keller and others are heavily featured. Ms. Poundstone isn’t comparing herself to them in any serious way; their accomplishments serve as a way for her to self-deprecatingly associate her life and challenges with those of others. And honestly, I learned a few things about these historical figures along the way, which was unexpected but a clever way to frame a book.

I also appreciated how she was open with the fact that she doesn’t have sex, and doesn’t enjoy it. She doesn’t judge others for having sex, and makes a couple of jokes at her own expense about it (namely focusing on how tired she is that even if she were doing sex correctly, as she assumes she wasn’t, she can’t imagine it being better than good sleep), but it is refreshing to hear someone speak openly about not being interested in it.

I can’t urge anyone to race out and get this, and there were certainly some cringe-worthy moments (I’m still not sure how I feel about the first part of the last chapter, which was focused on Chief Sitting Bull), but overall I think it was worth a Saturday morning’s worth of time.

Tuesday

2

May 2017

0

COMMENTS

The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit

Written by , Posted in Feminism, Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: People who enjoy Ms. Solnit’s writing.

In a nutshell: Essays on the experiences of women.

Line that sticks with me: “The entitlement to be the one who is heard, believed, and respected has silenced so many women who may never be heard, in so many cases.”

Why I chose it: I’ve enjoyed Ms. Solnit’s writing in the past.

Review: I wish I had more energy to do this review justice. I definitely enjoyed many of the essays in this book, and as always Ms. Solnit has a way with words that any writer would envy. That said – I don’t know. This one didn’t do as much for me as her last book.

I found the second half of the book to be more engaging and interesting to read than the first half, although I did underline and make notes on quite a few passages throughout. Her words on the Isla Vista murders and on rape jokes are especially good, but I can’t really imagine that I’ll be buying this for friends or returning to it often over the years to come.

Friday

28

April 2017

0

COMMENTS

Deadly Choices by Paul A. Offit

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: People looking for some solid details on how vaccines work and facts about what they do and don’t lead to.

In a nutshell: Infectious diseases expert provides an easy-to-read and detailed explanation of the history of anti-vaccine movements, from the 1800s to today.

Line that sticks with me: “Because anti-vaccine activists today define safe as free from side effects such as autism, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, strokes, heart attacks, and blood clots — conditions that aren’t caused by vaccines — safer vaccines, using their definition, can never be made.”

Why I chose it: I purchased this at the public health conference I attended this week. Seemed appropriate.

Review: If you look at the reviews on Amazon, over half are five stars, while nearly 40% are 1 star. I think you can guess why.

Dr. Offit doesn’t put up with any bullshit on the topic of vaccines. He has the credentials to back up his statements: he teaches vaccinology and pediatrics and was involved in the creation of the rotavirus vaccine.

He’s also a talented writer – he does a great job of explaining the history of vaccines in an interesting and compelling way, as well as breaking down, point by point, the current anti-vaccine movement that started in the early 1980s. He talks about the vaccine court that was set up in the late 1980s, as well as some of the campaigns led by celebrities that have greatly harmed public health in general, and individual children and families specifically.

Some of the myths he takes on are ones I’ve heard even my most educated, pro-vaccine friends talk about (specifically, why should we give babies the Hepatitis B vaccine). He also discusses why Dr. Sears’s “alternative schedule” is both unnecessary and dangerous, given how it hasn’t been studied nearly as closely as the schedule recommended by the CDC.

I work in public health; specifically, emergency preparedness and response. In just the past year we’ve dealt with mumps outbreaks in elementary schools and colleges, among other issues. It is so frustrating to see so many people who should know better choose to ignore all of the science and just ‘go with their gut’ or worse – go with the manipulations of the large anti-vaccination organizations. My county is also home to one of the worst offenders when it comes to vaccine rates – Vashon Island – and it was embarrassing to read about that community as one of Dr. Offit’s examples.

Look, I get that there are millions of choices parents need to make about how they want to raise their children. But this choice to withhold medical care is not only harmful to their child, but harmful to the entire community. There are people who cannot get vaccines because they are immunocompromised or allergic to the ingredients or just too young, and those people die because of the choices these selfish parents make. I wish more people would get that.

Wednesday

26

April 2017

0

COMMENTS

Cockpit Confidential by Patrick Smith

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: People who like trivia; nervous fliers.

In a nutshell: Pilot answers common questions and provides fun anecdotes about commercial air travel.

Line that sticks with me: “To a degree, each of these is open to interpretation, but there are four standard cabins: first class, business class, economy class, and Ryanair.”

Why I chose it: Airport purchase

Review: This was a mostly fun and interesting read. It starts strong, has some lags in the middle, has interesting bits 3/4 the way through, and ends one a bit of a meh. Mr. Smith covers so many topics, and I can’t think of any that he left out that I was wondering about. He talks about safety, about what’s happening at different points throughout the flights, and what we should really be fearing.

He doesn’t hide the fact that plane crashes happen, and he has a refreshing perspective of what September 11 did to the airline industry, especially where security is concerned. He also takes on some things I didn’t know I was interested in learning about, like his thoughts on airplane paint jobs (but they are kind of fun to read).

At 280 pages, this book might seem long, but it’s a fairly quick read. It’s three stars for me because it is well-written and interesting, but could use with some stronger editing.

(You can check out his website for updated information; he has already weighed in on the United passenger removal issue here: http://www.askthepilot.com/passenger-forcibly-removed/)

Saturday

22

April 2017

0

COMMENTS

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for: I don’t know. Everyone?

In a nutshell: A man’s suicide attempts are repeatedly foiled by his incompetent neighbors.

Line that sticks with me: “Men are what they are because of what they do. Not what they say.”

Why I chose it: I found myself in a a bookstore and saw that this was on sale. I figured it was finally time to check it out.

Review: Some very mild, non-specific spoilers follow.

Two novels in a row, both dealing with the issue of loss in very different ways. The book follows Ove, a 59-year-old man who has just been sent home for early retirement. He is a deliberate, regimented man who believes in things that you can see and touch. He builds homes and works on cars. He takes a daily inspection walk throughout his little housing community to make sure no rules are being broken. He’s basically “get off my lawn,” come to life.

Ove is also a young man, growing up and meeting the love of his life, Sonja. To tell this story, and to give the readers an understanding of how Ove came to be, nearly every other chapter is some sort of chronological flashback to his past. Through this we learn why he doesn’t trust the people from the government, and how his life experiences have led him to where his is today.

Once I realized what this book was about, I was a little worried to be consuming yet more media about a cantankerous old white man. But man, was it worth it. I think that what I loved most about this book is how I don’t really feel like the total personality of Ove changes by the end. Yes, there are definitely some different actions, but it’s not as though he starts as this regimented man and then ends up throwing all the rules out the window. He just manages to find some new motivation in his life that still (mostly) fits with how he wants to live it. By the end of the book I found that I hadn’t laughed nearly as much as the blurbs seemed to suggest I would, but that I did feel a whole range of emotions deeply.