ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Wednesday

21

September 2022

0

COMMENTS

Managing Expectations by Minnie Driver

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Fans of well-written and insightful autobiographies of public figures.

In a nutshell:
Actress and author Driver shares the details of a few stories that provide the reader with real insight into her life.

Worth quoting:
I listened so didn’t take down any particular phrases, but there were definitely multiple times I had a strong positive reaction to something she shared.

Why I chose it:
On one level, I’m a bit of a fan in that I think she is fantastic in Grosse Pointe Blank. On another, I have vague memories of claims that Matt Damon broke up with her on Oprah, and I was sort of hoping maybe she’s touch on that? (Spoiler: she does, in the classiest way possible.)

Review:
What an absolutely lovely autobiography. Given I’ve listened to some this year that left me a bit wanting in terms of both the quality of the writing and the choice of stories shared, I was a slightly hesitant, and thought perhaps this was no longer my genre of choice. Driver’s writing put all concerns to rest, as she provides a well-written, well-edited, and well-read (seriously, get the audio version she reads herself) collection of essays that provide insight into a privileged life. And even with that privilege, I didn’t get the sense ever that she was out of touch, or unaware of how lucky she has been in some aspects of her life. She seems to have a strong sense of self, and that comes across in this book.

The book isn’t just about her time as an actress – in fact it starts with a story about her being a bit of a brat as a child. I’d say nearly half the book is about her childhood, and the stories are fascinating. She doesn’t go from episode to episode – she seems to have carefully selected things that for her represent an important time and story in her life. There are just a handful of chapters, and each chapter is pretty narrowly focused, so don’t expect to get her literal life story.

She obviously does discuss her career, but I’d say it’s maybe 1/3 of the book max? The final chapter is heart-wrenching and beautiful, covering the short illness and death of her mother.

As with any memoir, I have no idea what was left out, how truthful the stories are, etc. But I get a sense that Driver has shared a lot of herself, and while it’s obviously not all of herself, it doesn’t feel censored or self-edited in an untrue way. I don’t ‘know’ Driver in any real way, but the book makes me feel now that I do, just a little bit, and I appreciate her contribution to this genre.

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

Monday

19

September 2022

0

COMMENTS

How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those who are interested in being more intentional with their time and attention.

In a nutshell:
Artist and author Odell explores ways to be more intentional with our time, and how that relates to community and environment.

Worth quoting:
“That tiny, glowing world of metrics cannot compare to this one, which speaks to me instead in breezes, light and shadow, and the unruly, indescribably detail of the real.”

“The impulse to say goodbye to it all, permanently, doesn’t just neglect our responsibility to the world that we live in; it is largely unfeasible, and for good reason.”

“What is needed, then, is not a ‘once-and-for-all’ type of quitting but ongoing training: the ability not just to withdraw attention, but to invest it somewhere else, to enlarge and proliferate it, to improve its acuity.”

Why I chose it:
The cover kept jumping out at me in bookshops, and then I read something where this was recommended, so figured that was enough to pick it up.

Review:
This is one of those books where the ‘worth quoting’ section could have gone on for pages and pages. Odell is a talented writer, and the book is filled with poetic phrases and insightful paragraphs that get the reader thinking critically about one’s place in the world, the choices one makes, and the impact one has on the community and environment around them.

The book is laid out in six strong chapters and a conclusion. The first chapter, ‘A Case for Nothing,’ makes the argument that we need the space in between, the silence, to think and live and contemplate. And while this ‘nothing’ is often seen as a luxury, she argues that it shouldn’t be – that we all need this time and ability to not have to be productive, to be active, to be consuming.

The second chapter explores the sort of knee-jerk reaction I know that I’ve seen in books that might be considered similar to this one – lets just leave it all behind and retreat forever. But Odell points out that not only is this not feasible for most, it’s not actually what we should be doing, because we owe something to our communities and to those we would leave behind.

From there, her third chapters explores different ways that people have exercised their right and need to withdraw their attention from where the current economy demands we focus it: social media, capitalism, overall ‘productivity’ in the sense of doing doing doing. After making the case of ways to fight against these strains on our time and attention, she then spends a chapter exploring how to engage our attention in other ways. It’s not about finding the right app to limit screen time; it’s about being intentional and recognizing that where we fix our attention creates our reality.

The last parts of the book focus on community, environment, space and time. I could be more specific, but I’m still processing what I’ve read. I didn’t expect the book to look so heavily at environment and ecology, but that is a consistent theme, and the fact that Odell is an avid bird-watchers plays heavy into the analogies she provides. She then wraps up discussing the idea she calls ‘manifest dismantling;’ that is, looking at ways communities have deconstructed the mistakes of their place that have disconnected them from nature and the world around them.

I think my review might suggest this book is all over the place, but it’s not. There’s just so much to contemplate, it’s one of those books that I would have loved to read as part of a book club so we could have discussed each chapter in depth. Regardless, I know this one will stick with me.

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

Sunday

18

September 2022

0

COMMENTS

On Being Nice by The School of Life

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Two Stars

Best for:
I am not going to recommend this to anyone, though I could imagine that perhaps fans of Jordan Peterson might find this to be right for them? Not for any specific reason, just a feeling I have.

In a nutshell:
The best I can describe this is as the book form of one of those personality tests management consultants rely on that don’t have any backing in science and yet very confidently reduces everyone down to a series of dichotomies.

Worth quoting:
Nope.

Why I chose it:
This is how The School of Life (authors of this book) describes itself: “We are a passionate group of people devoted to psychology, philosophy, therapy, art and culture – and on a mission to build exemplary tools that bring about growth, calm and self-understanding.” Sounds fairly up my alley, especially the philosophy aspect. Turns out, not so much.

Review:
There are a few different perspectives out in the world on the concepts of ‘nice’ and ‘kind,’ but most of the ones I tend to agree with are those that view ‘nice’ as a sort of outwardly performance, whereas kindness is an action that shows caring for someone else. It’s fascinating to me that the authors chose to focus on being nice, and not kind, but in reading this book, I’m not even sure they got that right.

This book seems to be deeply invested in archetypes and the idea that in every category of being, people are either a or b, and these types are both diametrically opposed to each other and also not entirely sophisticated or deep. And somehow at the same time, each of these types within a category had me saying ‘what?’, ‘huh?’, or ‘how on earth did you come to that conclusion?’

For example – they talk about people who are Polite vs people who are Frank and that this stems from ‘a contrasting set of beliefs about human nature.’ Huh? What? After reading the chapter, I’m still not entirely sure what they mean, but nearly everything I wrote in the margins was some version of ‘that doesn’t make any sense’ or ‘show your work.’ Similarly, the chapter that talks about shyness – YIKES. Deeply insulting and just unnecessarily weird.

The book also talks about the value of flirting (what? why?) and offers some suggestions about how to be a friend. The latter isn’t entirely void of interesting and possibly helpful suggestions; basically just enough to keep me from assigning this book one star instead of two. But overall, it feels almost like an alien was given a few books to read and movies to watch, and then asked to write a book on human behavior based on that very limited experience.

I think perhaps the authors were meaning to write a book on how to be the sort of person other people might want to be friends with? Maybe? It still wouldn’t be a book I’d recommend, but this version just makes very little sense to me, and where it is coherent, it’s not backed up with any support.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Toss it (along with another book by the same organization that I won’t even attempt to read)

Thursday

8

September 2022

0

COMMENTS

Life in the United Kingdom by Jenny Wales

Written by , Posted in Move to UK: Settling In, Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
There is only one audience for this one, and that audience is people who are planning to live in the UK long term.

In a nutshell:
Everything the UK government thinks one needs to know to become a citizen or permanent resident of the nation.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
On 22 September I’m taking the Life in the UK exam, which I need to apply for permanent residency early next year.

Review:
So this book is subtitled ‘A Guide for New Residents’ and honestly I wish they gave these out to everyone with their visa. I’m sure historians and current political folks will take issue with a lot in this book, but I was looking for a very basic book to explain how things work here, and this is a pretty snappy little abridged history of the UK.

As someone who is from a republic, it’s taken awhile to wrap my head around a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary system. And as I type this, I’m listening to the BBC broadcast about the Queen’s passing, which just happened this afternoon. There is a lot in this handbook that is no longer applicable. I think the national anthem has changed, right? It’s now God Save the King?

If you ever find yourself moving to the UK for more than a few months, even if you don’t plan to stay long enough to pursue citizenship, I think that it would be a good idea to pick this up. There’s some useful information in here, and some interesting little facts.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it. My partner needs to study!

Wednesday

17

August 2022

0

COMMENTS

It’s Bad Out There For Renters

Written by , Posted in Adventures

I have searched for apartments to rent many times in my life. I did it three times in college, once after, four times in NYC, three times in Seattle, and this is now my third time in London. The first time, we had no credit, no rental history, nothing, but I still found a place for us in about three days. The second time, in two days when we had enough with the first place not fixing the illegal gas line in 18 months.

This time? In London, in 2022, amidst dramatic inflation and a serious drop in real wages? It’s something else entirely. We don’t think we have to move when our lease is up in October, but last year our landlord tried to increase our rent 16%. We eventually agreed to an 8% increase, but even that is borderline obscene, so we’re wary about what he’s going to offer this time around, especially seeing what other landlords are getting.

A big caveat up front is that we have two cats, and landlords in London are deeply disappointing when it comes to pets. Legally they are supposed to be open to them, but in practice most are not. We had one estate agent tell us that the landlord’s insurance won’t allow pets. I don’t know if that was true or just an excuse, but if landlords are supposed to be open to a discussion, it seems illegal to have insurance that won’t allow that discussion.

So we know we are already picking from a limited pool. At the same time, we are both employed full-time, and make very decent wages, so we are able to spend more than a lot of people on our housing. Basically, we are in general really well positioned (other than having pets) to find a place, and yet it is still exhausting, depressing, and infuriating.

* * *

Over the last two weeks, we have sought information on 19 flats. Because we are who we are, Austin and I have a spreadsheet with a link to the posting (we scour Right Move, Zoopla, and Open Rent daily), address, viewing, status, date last contacted, and any notes. Thirteen days later, we’ve viewed eight flats, and only one was borderline okay for what they were offering it for.

Austin viewed the first one, and it was fine. Not great, not horrible. Clean (which will turn out to be a rarity) and in generally good repair. But then he received this:

Let’s talk through it.

1. Offer price – I am not buying a home. I am renting a flat. I have no information about it; I cannot get an inspection report, I don’t get references from previous tenants about the landlord. I am 100% reliant on what the landlord decides to charge. If one says it is available for £XXXX/month, I’m going to take that as the price. I’m not going to get into a bidding war to pay someone else’s mortgage.

In fact, just for fun on this one, I decided to look up what the unit sold for, assumed 20% down and looked up the interest rate that year to work out their likely monthly mortgage. They were asking for about £800 more per month than their mortgage. Even if one allows for setting aside a certain percentage for repairs and improvements, there is absolutely no reason to charge that much. None. I wanted to go back with a bid of £100 above their mortgage (so about £700 under asking) but we ended up just moving on.

2. A year is reasonable, and asking people to commit to more than that in a neighborhood they might never have lived in before, living at the mercy of someone they likely will never meet, is not.

3. Yeah, I get this. Makes sense.

4. Another flat we looked at and left after a couple of minutes had a similar process and said that if we wanted them to replace the missing washing machine (which would fit in the current GIANT HOLE in the kitchen), we should put it under requests, but we should really limit such requests. I’m sorry, what? I have a few ‘requests’ that I’ll be making of any landlord – that they have the place completely deep cleaned before we move in, that all expected appliances be installed and in good repair before we move in, that any broken cabinets, busted doors, cracks, scraped up paint, all be sorted out before we move in. None of this ‘as is’ crap, and it is obscene to make people have to accept places as is for fear of not having a place to live.

5. HELL NO. I’m sorry, but a photo and bio? Why? So landlords can pick people who remind them of themselves? So racists can rule out people of color? So ageists can avoid young people or older people? I can’t even believe this made it through because it seems like it is asking for discrimination lawsuit.

* * *

Since then we’ve seen a variety of places. There was one that had a very lovely outdoor space, but the kitchen was janky and the ‘second bedroom’ was maybe the size of one of the small meeting rooms they put in open-plan offices, that could fit a desk and maybe a plant? There was one that was absolutely fine, but there were like 15 other people there walking around and we didn’t like it enough to fight for it. Additionally, while I know everyone can make their own choices, and some people cannot wear masks for health reasons, we are still in a pandemic and would love it if people would wear masks during these showings, but it’s usually just us.

We’ve had a couple just straight up disappear on us. One was rented before anyone had the chance to view it. Another, we signed up for what we were told was the first opportunity to view it, then a few hours before our appointment the viewing was canceled because they had rented it to someone else. Just this week, one was posted in the evening, my partner called first thing in the morning, and was told it was no longer available … because the tenants were renewing. What? How does that make sense?

One estate agency that has posted a couple that we like insists on us completing an ‘application’ before we can even view the place. It’s frustrating because they do have properties that look good, but they want a lot of personal information (including the contact info of our landlord!) that I think is absurd to request just so someone can look at a flat. I don’t want an estate agent calling our landlord for a reference before we even know if the flat has a functioning refrigerator (one didn’t).

By far the most common thing we are seeing are flats that should be 25-30% less than they are due to their size and overall condition. Obviously if someone is living somewhere it isn’t going to be pristine, but these places are almost universally run down and sad, and landlords are asking for basically my entire monthly salary.

Yesterday was the worst so far though. Pictures looked great, and it was in a decent location, close to one of the better tube lines. I got there and knew within 30 seconds it was not the place for us. The two bedrooms were each a decent size, but one of them had a shower in it. Not, like, an en-suite bathroom, but just a cubicle shower in the corner of the room. And in that shower was a toilet. No, this wasn’t a boat. It was an apartment. (And there was no sign this was to accommodate any sort of disability – anyone living in that flat and accessing that shower would still need to go up a set of stairs to get to the kitchen and living room). And the person showing it seemed proud of this set-up.

The actual bathroom reminded me of my college boyfriend’s bathroom he shared with two other dudes. I didn’t go into it.

The main area could have been great – it was really big and open, lots of light. But the kitchen was in bad shape, including missing all of the kick boards under the cabinets. The ceiling had maybe been primed to be painted, and patched a bit, but looked like it was mid-renovation. It was not.

Look, these are not unlivable apartments. The electric, water, and gas all presumably work. I didn’t see evidence of mice or bugs. But they are expensive, they are poorly kept up, and people are fighting over them. This is not an acceptable way to treat people. There is absolutely no need for the housing to be this way. Yes, much of it is very old. But being old doesn’t mean it can’t be kept up well.

* * *

I know that some landlords who read this (lol, none will) will just shake their heads and say I don’t know what I’m talking about. But the thing is, I do! Austin and I were landlords for over three years after moving to London because we didn’t want to sell our home right away in case we had to move back. For the first two years we didn’t have a property manager, and we still managed to get things fixed from 6,000 miles away. The dishwasher broke and leaked, creating the need for some serious repairs. So we cut our tenant’s rent during that time, because they had to deal with construction.

The boiler acted up, and we had emergency repairs sorted out the next day. Meanwhile our first landlord here spent at least 18 months requiring us to run our gas off of giant propane tanks that ran out every three-four days, because they couldn’t be bothered to get the required permits for a legal gas connection to the mains. (They also never properly registered the address for the building, so we didn’t exist on those find my address forms on literally every website.)

As landlords we allowed multiple pets. And the rent we charged only JUST covered our mortgage, to the point that we had to dip into our savings each month. Last summer we agreed to sell because we didn’t like being landlords, it just felt … weird.

And I think it kind of is weird. Like, I get it if someone has to move away from their home but will be moving back. But owning multiple properties? Doing it as one’s ‘job’? Making one’s living off of gouging people who need a safe, secure, healthy place to live? I don’t think it’s okay, and I think it’s why so much of the housing stock available now is so expensive and so very very sad.

We have another viewing tomorrow, and we’re waiting to hear from our landlord next week what he wants to charge next year.

Wish us luck. And please wish even more luck to the people who have very little money to spend on rent and who need to move now. It’s just brutal out there, and we need to figure out a better way.

Sunday

14

August 2022

0

COMMENTS

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

Four Stars

Best for:
Those who like deep, emotional, thoughtful novels that are more character driven than plot-driven.

In a nutshell:
Klara is an AF waiting to be chosen by a child.

Why I chose it:
Never Let Me Go remains one of my absolute favorite novels. I saw all the great reviews this one was getting and decided to pick it up.

Review:
It’s hard to speak about specifics in this book without spoiling it, so … I think I’m going to spoil it. Before the spoilers begin though, I can say that I enjoyed this book, I thought it was interesting and raised some amazing questions even beyond the one in the blurb: ‘What does it mean to love?’

Okay, now spoilers.

* * *

The only quibble I have with this book is the first part – the part set in the store. I understand why it is there, and it definitely does give us insight into not only Klara but the world that allows for a Klara to exist, but I didn’t enjoy reading it much. Once she was chosen by Josie, however, I was sucked in.

It wasn’t until the end of the book that I actually understood what ‘lifted’ meant (at least, I think), and that the decision to genetically alter the children was what killed Josie’s sister and was close to killing her, and that Rick’s mother had chosen not to follow that route. A society where this is not only normal but apparently a prerequisite for ‘success’ in life is terrifying. And the fact that it can lead to death – that parents are willing to risk death rather than allow their children to exist without genetic modification.

The concept of AFs (I assume Artificial Friends) is also terrifying. I mean, I get it – society seems to have gotten used to AI in things like website chatbots. But having one assigned as a friend, to watch over one’s child, essentially spying on them, but also maybe being their servant? Yikes. Especially given all we come to know about Klara and how she can think and feel. She is brilliant in so many ways, but she doesn’t have a full view of the world, and her obsession with and treatment of the sun as a god is fascinating but also feels almost child-like. She can gain knowledge but it seems as though she can’t quite gain the maturity that would allow her to be more like an adult. And maybe that isn’t a bad thing, because so many people become crueler and less hopeful as adults.

The ‘portrait’ storyline also lead me to actually drop my jaw. Like, the idea that the AF could learn who Josie was by interacting with and studying her for a few years, and then ultimately BECOME her was chilling. I’m not a parent but I still think I can understand the visceral appeal of having a way to not lose one’s daughter (reminds be of a film I watched on AppleTV earlier this year – Swan Song), but wow that seems so extreme.

And the very, very last few pages? Broke my heart.

There is so much going on in this world, and it’s amazing how Ishiguro can build this world where there really are only a handful of characters we get to meet. Nothing is so explicit, and there is very little exposition. And yet I can picture the home, the town, and the society so very clearly.

This book will stick with me for awhile.

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

Monday

8

August 2022

0

COMMENTS

The Office BFFs by Jenna Fischer & Angela Kinsey

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Fans of either The Office TV show, or The Office Ladies podcast

In a nutshell:
Jenna ‘Pam’ Fischer and Angela ‘Angela’ Kinsey share stories of their time on The Office, which led to them becoming best friends.

Worth quoting:
N/A (audio book)

Why I chose it:
It was suggested by Audible and sounded fun

Review:
I didn’t watch The Office when it was on – I mean, I’m sure I saw episodes of it at the time but it wasn’t a show I regularly tuned in for. Some of it is just too cringe for me – my secondhand embarrassment is very easily set off – but some of it is really sweet. Once the show ended I watched it on streaming.

The book hits on exactly what I think any fan of a TV show wants. Behind the scenes gossip, interesting little nuggets about different famous episodes, deep dives into the main fictional relationships. This one also has the added bonus of learning about the real-life friendship of the two authors.

Unsurprisingly if you are familiar with these two actresses, the gossip is all kind and sweet. It sounds like everyone who worked on the show was just lovely. Really the only time there’s any tension is when discussing the fact that the show (I’m assuming the network, NBC) provided no maternity leave pay for Jenna Fischer, nor did they come up with ways to shoot around her leave, but they would accommodate other actors who had to be away when filming movies. Not cool, and I really appreciate that she spoke out about this, and the hardship of coming back to work five weeks post-partum because she needed the paycheck.

I’m not familiar with the podcast that Fischer and Kinsey started, similar to West Wing Weekly, but after listening to this book I’ll probably check it out.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Recommend to a Friend (who loved The Office)

Friday

5

August 2022

0

COMMENTS

Rogues by Patrick Radden Keefe

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People looking for some quality long-form writing about some interesting and disturbing characters.

In a nutshell:
Keefe brings together essays he’s written for magazines over the past decade or so.

Worth quoting:
N/A – Audio book

Why I chose it:
Loved his past two books – didn’t realize this was a collection of long essays.

Review:
This is not a bad book. It was not exactly what I was looking for, but I did still enjoy it. I listened to each essay in one sitting (well, running – it’s perfect for a 4-5 mile run, cool-down and stretch), which I think was the right call, because I would get the full story all at once.

The first essay is one I recall reading when it first came out, about someone who sells what are likely counterfeit rare old wines. There’s some enjoyment in it because one of the people he rips off is a Koch brother.

Other essays cover El Chapo, a woman in witness protection in Amsterdam because she testified against her mobster brother, a famous attorney who takes on notorious death penalty cases, someone fighting to find the truth of the Lockerbie bombing, and others. Also … Anthony Bourdain. I appreciate the title but I think it’s a bit much – some people don’t really fit under the ‘rebel’ theme but they also aren’t criminals. I don’t know – I’m happy they put all these essays together, but the link is tenuous at best.

Keefe is a talented investigative journalist – that is not in doubt. At times I wish he’s choose different words in his writing – sometimes it feels a little like that episode of Friends where Joey uses a thesaurus to try to make his letter to the adoption agency sound fancy. But that’s a choice Keefe makes as a writer, and it only sometimes pulled me out of the essays.

I don’t think anything in particular is gained from listening to this as opposed to reading it, but I do think each essay should be consumed all in one go.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it (if I could – it’s an audio book)

Saturday

30

July 2022

0

COMMENTS

This Book Will Make You Kinder by Henry James Garrett

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
All of humanity (but mostly the privileged folks).

In a nutshell:
Philosopher Garrett makes his case for the reasons we should be kind, and the ways people falter at it.

Worth quoting:
“The problem is not that oppressed people don’t empathize enough with their oppressors; the problem is that privileged folk don’t empathize enough with the oppressed.”

“Our beliefs about the inevitability of certain forms of suffering are intimately connected with our beliefs about what type of world is possible.”

“If you believe rules are the source of your duty to be kind and abstain from cruelty, you will be kind only to the extent that the rules demand.”

“Many people, for instance, mistake those rules of property and ownership upon which our capitalist system is built for moral rules, and they limit their empathy for that reason.”

“Kindness isn’t a complicated matter; in the end it comes down to whether you choose to look or to look away.

Why I chose it:
It had cute illustrations – plus I love a good book on kindness because I know I am not as kind as I’d like to be.

Review:
I knew this was going to be a special book when I got to page 5 and found an illustration of two whales. One says ‘Mama, how do we know when we’ve crossed from one ocean to another?’ and the mama whale responds ‘We don’t. Borders are socially constructed and you should be wary of anyone who takes them too seriously.’ Such adorable and profound illustrations fill this clever take on philosophy, morality, and empathy. There are turtles, dogs, birds, butterflies and other creatures imparting simple but important words of wisdom.

Garrett is a philosopher, and though this book is easy to read, it definitely has some aspects that remind of philosophy books and papers I read at university. His project with the book is to answer two questions: why are we kind, and why aren’t we kinder. The answer to the first question, he argues, is because of empathy, and the answer to the second question, is because of mistakes we make that ‘switch that empathy off.’

Early on he argues that many disagreements on particulars happen because we haven’t agreed to the underlying parameters or basic premises of the issues. If we’re starting from vastly different places, it is not surprising that we’ll feel as though we are talking past one another.

At this point and at many times throughout the book, Garrett is clear that he is not arguing that everyone makes the same number and type of empathy-limiting mistakes – this quote from above is critical to keep in mind throughout: “The problem is not that oppressed people don’t empathize enough with their oppressors; the problem is that privileged folk don’t empathize enough with the oppressed.”

Once Garrett has made his first argument about empathy and kindness, he turns to what he considers ‘empathy limiting mistakes.’ These are reasons why people essentially aren’t kinder. But first, he spends an entire chapter talking about how these mistakes are not evenly distributed throughout society – those with more power are often choosing or allowing themselves to make these mistakes, which result in them retaining more power of the people who they are choosing not to empathize with.

The chapter on the types of mistakes is enlightening, and includes things like false beliefs; ignorance / lack of knowledge; failure of imagination; a limited conception of morality (e.g. just following the rules of a religion, but not allowing for the idea that things not covered by those rules might also be unkind).

Once he’s explored in detail and provided examples of how each of these mistakes leads to a lack of kindness, he spends a chapter on how to improve empathy. This includes things like listening, treating people as experts in themselves, listening to those who are multiply oppressed, avoid being defensive, and being present.

I loved this book. I loved the sincerity and honesty with which Garrett approaches this topic. I love that he points out that ‘it costs nothing to be kind’ is a pretty limited conception of kindness – if we’re doing it right, it may very well cost us a lot to be kind, and that’s okay. I keep thinking about this book and I’ll be thinking about it for awhile.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep / Buy for everyone

Sunday

24

July 2022

0

COMMENTS

Can’t Even by Anne Helen Petersen

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
All of, us collectively, as a society, who are fed up with the expectations that we just work work work.

In a nutshell:
Author Petersen explores how the Millennial generation has been put into basically a really shit situation.

Worth quoting:
“This isn’t a personal problem. It’s a societal one — and it will not be cured by productivity apps, or a bullet journal, or face mask skin treatments, or overnight fucking oats.”

“Just because middle-class parents decided that a certain style of parenting is superior doesn’t mean it empirically is.”

“By cloaking the labor in the language of ‘passion,’ we’re prevented from thinking of what we do as what it is: a job, not the entirety of our lives.”

Why I chose it:
Although I’m a Xennial, I can definitely relate to the feeling of just being completely exhausted by the world and the expectations of all of us.

Review:
Author Peterson has written an interesting and important book, though in the end, I’m not sure it is telling us anything we don’t already know, at least those of us who are paying attention.
This book was written before the ‘Great Resignation’ became a thing, which makes it quite prescient.

She starts by looking at how we got here – essentially the values and pressures put on people by their parents. She’s not blaming the previous generation exactly, just discussing how their lives were different than the lives of their children. It reminds me of something I’ve read elsewhere – Boomers love to belittle Millennials for demanding ‘participation trophies,’ but the Boomers are the ones who taught them to expect those trophies – so why are the Millennials the ones being derided?

From there, the book focuses on what so many of us know – how for many of us, our lives have been a constant hustle. Get the best grades you can while also playing a sport, learning an instrument, and volunteering so you can go to a good university. Get the best grades there, along with perhaps some unpaid work experience (though only for those who can afford that), and then get a job. Which will pay you very little, and take up so much of your time that you have no time for living.

So yeah, folks are burnt out.

Peterson explores a variety of things that contribute to this: the digital age forcing work into every aspect of our lives; parenthood and how much energy that requires; unfair and unequal division of labor.

There’s so much in here and I think a lot of people would benefit from reading it. And while there are loads of reminders in there about the lives we all live individually, Peterson make a point to not offer specific solutions. There’s nothing here that a better time management method will fix – this is a problem with our society. Demanding people work eight or more hours a day, five days a week, commute 2 or 3 hours a day, raise children, with insufficient pay and very little support is a society that needs to be overturned at a systemic level.
We collectively need to take control back from the people who think its just fine for us all to work ourselves beyond exhaustion.

And until then, we definitely need to stop judging other people who might not go to university, or who might not parent the way we would, or who are living their lives in ways that we might not (but perhaps that we wish we could). The system is fucked up and people are doing their best to survive it.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep & Recommend to a Friend