ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Sunday

5

July 2020

0

COMMENTS

The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
Those open to reconsidering the ways they view themselves and others.

In a nutshell:
Author Sonya Renee Taylor offers up the idea that society’s ills are based on hatred of bodies that deviate from ‘the norm,’ and that by moving beyond self-acceptance to self-love, we will be able to create “a world that works for every body.”

Worth quoting:
“Our societies have defined what is considered a ‘normal’ body and have assigned greater value, resources, and opportunities to the bodies most closely aligned with those ideas of ‘normal.’”

Why I chose it:
A friend directed by to Ms Taylor’s Instagram account, where she often posts videos. I saw she had a book and wanted to check it out.

Review:
Ms Taylor’s premise is that we need to stop judging bodies, not simply as a way to accept and love ourselves, but to literally change the world. Throughout this relatively short book stuffed full of history, sociology, philosophy, and concrete action, Ms Taylor supports her idea that the setting of a default ‘normal’ body and the resulting judgment of bodies that deviate from that norm is what causes harm. She provides opportunities for reflection on how the reader has developed their relationship with their own body, as well as how that in turn influences how they interact with others in the world.

She starts by laying out the concept of radical self-love, then moves onto the history of body shame that propels so many of us to apologize for our bodies – size, gender, ability, neurodiversity, race, etc. – followed by ways to build radical self-love when the world around us pushes just the opposite. Ms Taylor then takes us through the idea of implicit bias and need to remain aware of the ways we continue to judge ourselves and other bodies, and finishes it up with a very practical toolkit.

I love this book. Ms Taylor’s way of writing is accessible and fun. I want all of us to read it and to really think about what it would mean if we were to implement the concepts within it.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it

Thursday

2

July 2020

0

COMMENTS

Making Spaces Safer by Shawna Potter

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone who runs a club, organization, group, or works at a bar, club, or venue. Basically people who are responsible for other people.

In a nutshell:
Author Potter offers suggestions for ways to keep event spaces safer for participants.

Worth quoting:
“When approached by someone who has experienced harassment, being their advocate is your number one priority.”

Why I chose it:
I recently stepped into a leadership role in an organization I’m in, and I want to make sure its a safer space for all involved.

Review:
I’ve been harassed. I’m a woman – of course I’ve been harassed. I’ve also been present when other women have been harassed, and when people of color have been harassed. In those moments, we want to do something – but do most of us know what to do? The best ways to respond? How to care for the person who has been harmed?

This book looks at ways to create safer spaces, including being very clear about the values your space / organization supports, what is not tolerated, how to respond, and ways to be accountable. There are many different options here, so you can try out what you think will work best for the people you are looking to ensure are safer.

This book is definitely best for the places it was created for – that is, music venues, bars, defined spaces. But there are a lot of good lessons in here that can translate to other spaces.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it and Pass to a Friend

Monday

22

June 2020

0

COMMENTS

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
White people who haven’t been deeply in anti-racism work for years.

In a nutshell:
Author Layla F Saad offers a 28-day education and reflection on how to fight racism.

Worth quoting:
“This is not a personal growth book that is designed to make you feel good about yourself.”
“It means that you do this work because you believe in something greater than your own self-gain.”

Why I chose it:
I’ve seen others reference it in a lot of places.

Review:
So, I’m not brand new to anti-racism work. But I might as well be, because the reality is that as a white woman, I’ve just not had to think about race and racism that much. I was raised in the US, thinking of white as the default – a character in a book would be assumed white unless identified otherwise. I mostly consumed books, media, art by white people. I wasn’t raised to be overtly racist, but I certainly wasn’t raised to be anti-racist.

I think this book is an excellent place for white people to start really wrestling with the society we live in, the thoughts in our heads, the experiences we’ve had, and the harm that we have caused. As Ms Saad states in the quote I pulled, this isn’t a self-help tome that you can display prominently so people know you’re in the work. It’s a book that helps you as a means to the end of reducing racism, both that perpetuated by you and by those around you.

The book stems from a 28-day challenge Ms Saad led on Instagram. The book has an introduction to prepare the reader, and a conclusion, with the majority of the book focused on four seven-day challenges. Each week focuses on a different area, building upon the previous work: the basics; anti-Blackness, racial stereotypes, and cultural appropriation; allyship; and power, relationships, and commitments.

She covers ideas you may be familiar with: tone policing, white privilege, stereotypes, and optical (or what I’ve also heard referred to as performative) allyship. She also talks about things that perhaps haven’t been on your radar, like white exceptionalism (assuming you’re ‘one of the good ones’ who doesn’t need to do this work).

Each day ends with reflective journaling prompts. And the thing is, you have to do them. It’s not just about reading them and answering them in your head. It’s about setting aside the time, every day, to get dirty. To get deep into what you’ve done in the past, what you’re doing now. And eventually, how you commit to change.

It’s not easy. Some of it is painful. Actually, most of it is. It SUCKS to peel back more and more layers of white supremacy and see the world in a different way, and start to grapple with this new reality. But it’s necessary.

You won’t finish this book and suddenly stop being complicit in white supremacy. Marking this as read on Goodreads and then forgetting about it can’t be an option. If you’re going to read this, please really read it. Take in the words, internalize, and then work to do better.

The book ends with an exercise of writing out my commitments to anti-racism work as specifically as possible, and to print it out and put it somewhere I will see it every day, which I’ve now done. I also know I will go back through the journal often, to remind myself of what I’ve learned and what I have still to do.

To my fellow white people, I hope you’ll pick this up, so we can continue to reduce the harm we’re causing.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it. Reread it.

Tuesday

9

June 2020

0

COMMENTS

Cage by Lilja Sigurðardóttir

Written by , Posted in Reviews

3 Stars

Best for:
Those who like to follow through with a series.

In a nutshell:
With a time jump six years, we learn that some characters from the last two books have been punished, while others have become bolder. We also meet a couple new folks.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
I bought the trilogy all at once, and for the most part I’m happy I did.

Review:
This was one of those books where, with about 40 pages to go, I thought ‘wait, how will they be able to wrap all of this up?’ And Sigurðardóttir’s does, mostly, and in a somewhat unexpected way.

The previous two books focused on Sonja, but Sonja doesn’t even appear in this one until about halfway through. Instead, Sonja’s former girlfriend / partial cause of the Icelandic financial crash Agla is the focus. We meet her again in jail, having been abandoned by Sonja years earlier. We also meet a young boy who seems dedicated to blowing something up.

The time leap was a good call, I’d say, though I’m vaguely annoyed at not quite understanding how Sonja got from where she was at the end of the last book. She’s almost an afterthought for most of this. I also had trouble following the aluminum plot here – I get why it was needed but part of me felt like I was watching a hacker film – like, maybe what I’m seeing is based in reality, but it felt a bit off.

Overall I’m glad I read the books. Not exactly what I was looking for, but definitely kept me wondering until the end.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it

Monday

1

June 2020

0

COMMENTS

Trap by Lilja Sigurðardóttir

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Rating: 4 Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoy crime novels of the Icelandic variety. Those who appreciate when the main character is both a) not a man and b) not straight.

In a nutshell:
Sonja thinks she’s out but gets pulled back into the drug running world of Iceland, post financial crash.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
Icelandic crime. Love it.

Review:
As I hoped, in this book we do get a bit more flesh on the bones of the characters. The style remains true to the first book in the series – many very short chapters, alternating perspective among Sonja, her girlfriend (maybe) Agla, Sonja’s son Tómas, and customs officer Bragi.

Spoilers for book one in the series:
At the end of Snare, Sonja takes Tómas to Florida. At the start of Trap, Adam, Sonja’s ex (and, as we learned at the end of book one, the higher-up in the drug system that she’s been trapped in) tracks them down and brings them back. Sonja now can’t see her son but is forced to continue running drugs.

Some characters from the first book make appearances and have bigger roles, so that’s fun. And it has an interesting resolution, where I’d probably be fairly happy if there weren’t a book three, but there is still enough out there to think ‘oh, I can see where she’s going, there are some loose ends that could be a problem.’

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it

Wednesday

27

May 2020

0

COMMENTS

Snare by Lilja Sigurðardóttir

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoy crime novels of the Icelandic variety. Those who appreciate when the main character is both a) not a man and b) not straight.

In a nutshell:
Sonja is divorced and lost custody of her son. To get by, she smuggles cocaine. (That’s right, the cocaine smuggling came after losing her son.) She has a relationship with Agla, who is being pursued for her role in the Iceland financial collapse. Sonja wants out, and she wants to regain custody of her son.

Worth quoting:
“It was as if the apartments that were empty for too long acquired a deep sadness.”

Why I chose it:
I wanted some fiction, this was the start of a trilogy, and the author was listed in an article that included Ragnar Jonasson, who wrote the Dark Iceland series I enjoyed.

Review:
I new from the second chapter that I was definitely into this book, because chapter two was from a different character’s perspective. While the book doesn’t skip about in time, it does skip from character to character, which I love. I like seeing many of the pieces, though not all of them. It makes any eventual twists less shocking and more ‘oh yeah, that makes sense.’

The chapters in this book are short – some only three or four paragraphs – and the book reads quickly. The characters are at times a bit flat, but it’s a series so I’m hoping for a bit more in books two and three. I appreciate that the main love interest for Sonja is a woman, and that the woman she is interested in struggles with having feelings for another woman.

As for the crime aspect – it’s not so much a mystery (which is what I was initially hoping for) as a thriller. Unlike the Dark Iceland series, we’re not wondering who the murderer is. Instead, we’re with the criminal — Sonja — wondering how she ‘s going to get out of the mess she’s in. It also means people with different perspectives might find themselves rooting for different characters. Do you hope Sonja gets away with it, because you can see she’s a good parent for her child, and she just wants to get out of the whole system? Do you hope that the customs agent stops her because who knows who is getting rich off the drugs she is bringing in? Are you just generally annoyed that drugs are illegal, creating this weird smuggling system?

I read this book in 24 hours, starting it before bed on a weekend and finishing it after work the next day. I already have the second book and will be starting it after work today.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it (I don’t tend to re-read fiction)

Sunday

24

May 2020

0

COMMENTS

British Politics: A Very Short Introduction by Tony Wright

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People who understand how British government should work in theory but want to know how it works in practice. It’s like British government 201.

In a nutshell:
Former Member of Parliament provides a very basic (though not basic enough for me) understanding of how the UK government works.

Worth quoting:
“Britain is rare among democratic states (only Israel and New Zealand belong to the same category) in not having a book of constitutional rules.”

Why I chose it:
I was looking for British government 101 – something more than what Wikipedia might tell me – after moving to the UK in 2018.

Review:
I earned a Political Science minor in college. I have two graduate-level degrees in public administration and public policy. I’ve spent 12 of the 16 years I’ve worked post-college in the public sector in the US. I share this because I want you to understand that I find government interesting from both a practical and a theoretical perspective, and have taken great pains to educate myself in this area.

But when I moved to the UK, I felt like I was back in kindergarten. As far as I could tell, UK government looked something like this: there’s the Queen, duh. And the Prime Minister. And the PM isn’t directly elected like the US President – they are the leader of a party that gets the most votes in Parliament at Westminster. And they need the Queen’s permission to form a government, but that’s, like, a formality, because she never says no. And if they step down, there isn’t a whole new election, there’s just this mini-election by the members of the party in power (no, not the Members of Parliament, the members of the party, which might be like .2% of the actual population).

Parliament sort of governs all of the UK. But maybe mostly England? Because Northern Ireland has a devolved government. So does Scotland. And apparently Wales? Does England have one then too? Are these nations, like US states, where they all have a government but there’s a bigger federal government that handles the messy bits like trade and war? No?

And then bills that become laws – it goes House of Commons (like the US House of Representatives), then the House of Lords (not at all like the US Senat), and then it has to be signed by the PM, right? Oh, no? Not even close? Cool. Cool cool cool.

Guys, even before the bizarre autumn of 2019, where the PM resigned, and there was a glimmer of hope that Labour might take over, and EU bills were all failing, I just wanted to know how it all works. I went to a bookstore and asked one of the kindly booksellers if they had anything like a UK Government 101 book to help me understand. Like, I’d be happy with something they give to 10-year-olds. [I tried Wikipedia, but it was both too much and not nearly enough information (though I guess England doesn’t have it’s own government? The hell?).] They were confused and seemed almost shocked at my request. But after much conversation amongst themselves, the booksellers suggested I order this one.

That’s a lot of information in what is meant to be a book review, but I provide it all so you get the context that even with this very short, pretty straightforward book, it was STILL too detailed for me. It’s brief indeed, but still gets into political machinations and workings that would make better sense if I understood how the UK government was, on paper, meant to work. And this doesn’t have it.

This seems like a great second half to a book that I am still in search of. I should probably have realized that it wouldn’t be quite right because it’s about British Politics, not British Government, but alas. Couldn’t he have included, like, a chart in the first two pages explaining things? Or even stick it in the back so readers who aren’t as ignorant of the topic as I am aren’t insulted? An appendix with a flow chart would have been useful.

Back to the bookstore (when it reopens) to see if I can get something else. Maybe this time I’ll tell them its for my imaginary 9-year-old niece.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it – some day I might get that 101 I’m desperate for, and then this will make more sense.

Saturday

23

May 2020

0

COMMENTS

Asking for a Friend by Jessica Weisberg

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Anyone who likes self-help books / advice columns.

In a nutshell:
Author Weisberg explores the history of advice giving, from Benjamin Franklin to life coaches.

Worth quoting:
“Americans’ interest in advice reflects our cultural tendency toward optimism: we tend to believe that with a bit of direction and a small boost, the future can be bright.”

“People seem to prefer advice-givers whose wisdom seems attainable, who learned from doing.”

Why I chose it:
My sister gave me this for Christmas a couple of years ago, because I LOVE advice books (and have my own advice website).

Review:
The title gave me the impression that this book would focus primarily on newspaper (or online) advice columns: Dear Abby, Dear Prudence, Dr Drew (blech), Dr Ruth. And while the first two are covered in one chapter, the focus is as much on other ways people have become well-known by giving advice, including life coaches and marriage counselors.

The book is divided into four parts, and starts with ‘Old, Wise Men.’ I was most fascinated with the section on Benjamin Franklin, partly because Weisberg brings up the Silence Dogood letters, which I know only because I watch National Treasure probably three or four times a year. But it also covers experts like Dr Spock and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and traditional advice columnists like Judith Martin (a.k.a. Miss Manners), giving readers some insight into their background and their philosophy around providing guidance to others.

This book is mostly focused on the history of advice-giving; I think another volume would be interesting if it focused on the more modern advice columnists, or perhaps more of a comparison to how its evolved. This book seems to generally end with the 1990s (ish); it seems like so much has happened with this field in the last 20 years that I’d like to see that thrown into the mix.

The only criticism I have is in one chapter she reference Woody Allen a lot. I don’t need a pedophile mentioned in my books on advice, I don’t care how influential he may have been.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it

Sunday

10

May 2020

0

COMMENTS

The Book of London Place Names by Caroline Taggart

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Those who like to have access to basic trivia about places they live or visit.

In a nutshell:
Author Taggart provides some history in an accessible way.

Worth quoting:
“…no one seems to be sure, but there was probably once …”
(Seriously, it seems like for half the names, this is the answer.)

Why I chose it:
Moved to London. Wanted to learn more.

Review:
I think this is the last of the books I bought on sort of a whim when I first moved here and wanted to learn as much as I could about London. Considering I’ve been here for well over two years and am just getting to them now, clearly I didn’t dive right in.

I’ve now read a few books like this one, and I think overall it’s probably the easiest read. It feels a bit repetitive at times, but that’s because most of the places have similar stories – they are names for someone royal, or for someone no one can remember, or for a geological feature.

I appreciated that Taggart didn’t include stories about ever street or every part of London – she picked some highlights. Now, I’m not sure how much cultural awareness went into her decision-making; it’s entirely possible that she systematically left out areas that might have significance to BAME groups or immigrants. But she did at least cover London south of the river, which I think some folks forget even exists. To that end, I live and work (when I’m not in lock-down) in south London, so I especially enjoyed learning about the history of the places I used to walk by every day.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it

Sunday

10

May 2020

0

COMMENTS

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Me, I thought, but apparently not, as I was not able to get through it all.

In a nutshell:
Oh boy. Iris’s sister has driven herself off a bridge and is dead. Then there’s another book, a science-fiction-y type book. Then Iris is a child, and we learn about her life growing up. Apparently later on there are many twists.

Worth quoting:
“Farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse. Solid flesh can never live up to the bright shadow case by its absence.

Why I chose it:
I bought this awhile ago, right around when I first read The Handmaid’s Tale and wanted to read more of her work.

Review:
It’s hard to review a book that I couldn’t get into, especially when maybe the issue was me? The writing is great – I can picture the characters and every scene I read. The story overall was just I think too jumpy in the beginning for me to feel invested in any area of it. I generally enjoy time jumps and not really knowing where something is going in a novel, but this felt so disjointed that I couldn’t get into any sort of flow with it.

I can see a world where I start this book on a flight and then keep reading it while on vacation. But with everything going on right now, and all the different ways to get distracted right now, I needed a book that would immediately suck me in, and this one did not.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it