ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Saturday

16

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

All This Life by Joshua Mohr

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People interested in exploring how technology affects relationships.

In a nutshell:
Four different stories involving eight different people intertwine against the backdrop of an event that makes national news.

Worth quoting:
“All that matters in content. New content. More content.”

Why I chose it:
Gift from a friend.

Review:
CN: Suicide; Non-consensual distribution of sexual images

A young teen boy films a marching band on the Golden Gate bridge, the members of which end up jumping to their deaths. He then posts the video to YouTube. An 18-year-old finds that her boyfriend has posted a video of them having sex to a porn site. A boy turns 18 but still can’t speak more than a few words, after an accident. A man learns of his sister’s death and feels responsible. A mother leaves her son after an accident, and tries to stay sober. A teen runs away.

This book explores relationships, and what happens when things go ‘viral,’ though it isn’t framed exactly as such. What happens to the person who has a sex tape posted against her wishes, without her knowledge, and everyone she knows sees it? What happens what a young teen films a mass suicide and then chooses to post it online, racking up views and comments? How does the decision to come up with pithy names for incidents and individuals impact the victims of the events?

I like how Mohr weaves these stories together, though there are a couple of parts that don’t entirely make sense. It’s not enough to spoil the book or anything, just a bit out of nowhere. I also perhaps am too far removed from being a teen (and I certainly wasn’t a teen with social media), but the inner monologues Mohr assigns to the 14-year-old who posts the suicide video online seems a bit what an adult imagines a kid would think, as opposed to what kids are actually thinking, if that makes sense. I mean, obviously a grown man isn’t going to know what’s in the head of a teen boy with the internet at hand, but still, the decisions here don’t exactly ring true to me.

Then again, a bunch of grown adult white supremacists were recently convinced by a failed real estate mogul / reality star and a dude who sells pillows to stage a coup, so perhaps I think too highly of what goes on in most people’s minds.

I don’t think I’d go as far as to recommend this book, but if one were to receive it as a gift, or come across it at a library, I think it’s a decent read.

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

Saturday

9

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Post-Growth Living by Kate Soper

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Philosophy students and lecturers

In a nutshell:
Soper’s project is exploring how people can rethink their idea of the good life to fit in with the reality of our current consumer culture’s negative impact on our own lives and the environment.

Worth quoting:
“However critical they may be of capitalism in other respects, socialists are still much too ready to subscribe to conventional views on the ‘good life’ and what constitutes a ‘high’ standard of living.”

Why I chose it:
A podcast I listen to described it in the liner notes. As someone who enjoys a good philosophy book, and someone who has some fairly conventional ideas of what the good life is (especially where travel is concerned), I was intrigued.

(I’m not huge on interviews, so I didn’t actually listen to the podcast interview with the author, which may have been a mistake.)

Review:
Did you ever see the movie “In Time”? I remember reading the premise for it and I was so excited. It’s a sci-fi thriller, and the main concept is that people are allocated a certain amount of time to live, and then they work to earn more. Time is currency, so you lose time off your life when you buy groceries or pay rent or whatever. It seemed like such an interesting concept, and one that could be done really well. But the movie itself was … not great. Lots of missed opportunities, unnecessary parts. Not horrible, and still making some interesting points, but overall a let down.

I kept thinking of that movie when I reading this book.

It took me about ten days to get through the first chapter. It is (at least, I hope) more of an academically-focused book, and while I’ve read a few in my time, this one was a challenge to get into. After that first chapter, the rest was definitely easier to read, but still unnecessarily complicated.

But what bothered me the most, and what I found to be a missed opportunity, is that I don’t think Soper ever actually defined her concept of Alternative Hedonism. What does it entail? What are the main components? What could fit into her definition? She spends the book talking about different areas of life that need a review – work, overall consumption, the idea of what prosperity is – with a lot of focus on the impact of all this living on the environment to the detriment of our futures. But there isn’t anywhere I could find that laid out how she defined what she was arguing for. I’d think that would belong in the Introduction, but if it was there, I didn’t see it. So it makes for a challenging read, trying to figure out what argument the author is trying to make.

There are definitely important and interesting points the author is aiming to make, I just don’t think they are successful if the audience is anyone who isn’t a Philosophy professor, or someone who is deeply steeped into this style of writing.

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

Thursday

7

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Attempted Coup

Written by , Posted in Politics

So, that happened, eh?

I turned on the TV yesterday afternoon to see a bunch of pathetic men and women (MAGAs) storming the US Capitol Building, because they had a sad that they lost an election. Inside, a bunch of elected pathetic men and women (e.g. Republicans) were giving speeches about non-existent election fraud.

The MAGAs decided they were going to come inside, and the Republicans suddenly started clutching their pearls, acting shocked – SHOCKED – that exactly what they’d been encouraging the MAGAs to do actually happened.

And the MAGAs didn’t have to do much to get inside, because the Capitol Police appeared to just let them in.

So much about what happened yesterday is infuriating. The current president – who should definitely be impeached and immediately removed from office – encouraged the MAGAs in their march, and then released a video declaring his love for them. Meanwhile, the Republicans read their lies into the Congressional record during the certification process.

The entitlement of the MAGAs isn’t surprising, because we’ve seen how the police often act when faced with white people vs Black people and those supporting them. You’ve probably seen the photo of the Black woman with a flower being charged by police in full riot gear. Meanwhile, at the US Capitol last night, even though they’ve known for weeks that this riot was heading their way, they seemed to just let them in. And once the MAGAs were inside, they appeared to be allowed to run around like kids in a toy store. Destroying offices. Possibly accessing sensitive information. Disrespecting everything about our electoral system.

And then, once the MAGAs decided they were done, the Capitol Police just escorted them out. Fifty two arrests. The rest just got to go back to the Holiday Inn and exchange ‘war stories’ about the time they stormed the Capitol.

(But is it really storming when the people meant to keep you out welcome you, taking selfies?)

We should all be livid. We should be livid that the MAGAs hold these views, and that the Republicans encourage them. We should be livid at Mitch McConnell and Mike Pence. I see people praising them for “doing the right thing.” That is not okay. The bar is so low it’s being melted by the heat of the Earth’s core. If Mike Pence really had a problem with Trump, he could have resigned after the election. Shoot, he should never have signed on. Him remaining in his role is an acceptance of every single one of Trump’s actions, from putting children in cages to inciting an insurrection.

And McConnell? He’s always been horrible. Remember how he treated President Obama? McConnell is an asshole who is 100% concerned with power. That is it. He’s Trump, but smart. He doesn’t get to distance himself now. Just because he did the right thing when he’d tried all other options first doesn’t make him worthy of praise. For the next six years, he needs to be ignored, and when he isn’t being ignored, he needs to be shamed for his actions.

I disagree with President-Elect Biden when he says ‘This isn’t who we are.’ It is who at least 75 million are, and probably more. It’s a huge problem, and pretending it is a small group of people, or that this is anything new, isn’t helping.

Saturday

2

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Amal unbound by Aisha Saeed

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Young readers (8 or 9 and up); adults who want to know what their nieces and nephews are reading.

In a nutshell:
Amal, a young girl living in Pakistan, talks back to the wrong man and is forced to go work in his home as a maid to his mother.

Worth quoting:
“Until now, I didn’t realize how memories clumped together. Remembering one unlocked another and then another until you were drowning in a tidal wave threatening to sweep you away.”

Why I chose it:
My niece gave it to me as part of her family’s Christmas gift (she and her mother each picked a book they’d read this year that they loved).

Review:
Obviously I’m not the target audience for this book, but I definitely found it engaging. Amal is such an interesting character, one who I think many girls could identify with even if they wouldn’t find themselves in her particular circumstances. She loves school and wants to learn. She’s a big sister, and helps with her family. She also craves independence.

I appreciate how some of this book focuses on Amal’s lack of control and agency in her situation, but then finds ways for her to take back that control and agency. It also shows adults as complex people – there is obviously a villain, but there are other adults who are trying to help, and adults who actually DO help. Author Saeed writes parents who desperately care for their children but aren’t able to do anything to change Amal’s circumstances in that moment, showing the reader that just because a parent isn’t able to fix something doesn’t mean they don’t care or that they aren’t trying.

Amal also shows a lot of courage in the face of really challenging situations, serving as an example to kids that even if it might be easier to remain quiet, it is important to speak up and possibly help others. And that we are often faced with choices we don’t like, and sometimes we just must pick the best one in that moment, and sometimes we have to find an option that wasn’t originally there.

When researching for this review, I learned that Saeed is one of the founders of We Need Diverse Books (https://diversebooks.org/), so that’s awesome too.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it – I want other young readers to have access to it.

Friday

1

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Baking Bible by Mary Berry

Written by , Posted in Baking, Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Fans of the original recipe Great British Bake-Off (I’m in the UK so I get to say that!); people looking for some fun recipes.

In a nutshell:
Original Great British Bake-Off Judge Mary Berry shares a bunch of recipes.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
Christmas gift!

Review:
I found the early seasons of GBBO, where Mel and Sue would interject historical interludes and interviews explaining the different items the contestants were baking, to be a huge help in understanding food culture in the UK when we moved here.

I appreciate the beginning of this book, where she has a lot of conversions (especially for temperature, because I still can’t convert C to Gas Mark to F) as well as some tips for additional baking supplies. I used to bake a lot but we gave away all of my baking stuff (except the measuring cups) when we moved, and I’m slowly re-building my tools.

The recipes aren’t too complex, and so many of them look utterly delicious. I went out and got some self-rising flour as many of her recipes include this (as opposed to plain flour). I was able to skip over all the ones with raisins / other dried fruit because nope. Instead, I went through and marked with a post-it every recipe I want to try, and there are SO MANY. Easily 70% of the content.

Today I made her banana loaf recipe, because I’ve got some very ripe bananas and I have a family recipe for banana bread that I’ve made every couple of months for the past year. It’s the one my mom made, so having something to compare the Mary Berry recipe to seemed appropriate. I’ve shared a photo – that dark color is from my horrible oven (I loath gas ovens – I miss my fan assisted one SO MUCH). The loaf itself took a bit longer to bake (again, my oven I’m sure) and is definitely much more moist than my mother’s recipe. My partner said it also tasted a bit more savory, but I think it has more sugar than my mom’s recipe. But it does have one fewer banana, so maybe that’s it. It was an easy recipe though and I could see myself making it again, especially if I only have two ripe bananas available.

The only reason this is a four-star read is because there isn’t a photo for every recipe. For me, that’s a requirement for a 5-star recipe book rating. I want to know exactly what the end result should be, and I need photos for that.

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

Thursday

31

December 2020

0

COMMENTS

Oh 2020…

Written by , Posted in Adventures

It’s almost a new year! According to the world, it’s time to make resolutions, set new goals, recommit to being our best selves!

It’s also about to be Friday. Like any other Friday. In much of the northern hemisphere, it’s cold out. It gets dark here at 4pm. There’s nothing very motivating about knowing I’m going back to work on Monday (though I am lucky I have a job to go back to).

Do you remember this time LAST year? In the US, folks were so excited to kiss 2019 goodbye, because we knew by the end of the year, we’d (if there is a god) have a new president ready to be sworn in on January 20. Hopefully Elizabeth Warren, or Kamala Harris. But definitely not Trump.

Many of us set goals. Travel more. Spend more time with friends. Finally apply for that stretch position at work.

And then … COVID happened. For most of us, the goal became survival. For some, that was physical survival – keeping the lights on and food on the table, or avoiding getting sick while working an essential job. For others, it meant mental survival – extroverts trying to figure out how to get any energy when all social interactions are behind screens, parents trying to support kids who had no energy release or social outlets. As time went on, we saw more and more people showing how little they care for others. People taking vacations or unnecessary trips for jobs that weren’t at risk, possibly spreading the disease. People refusing to wear a bit of fabric over their nose and mouth when near others. People screaming about MA FREEDUM while dismissing concerns of people protesting for actual threats to their freedom (e.g. folks fighting to defund the police and get others to recognize that Black Lives Matter).

So much of 2020 has disappointed me. 70 million+ people thought voting for a racist rapist to have a second term in office was just fine. A smaller minority, but one that includes elected Republicans, have spent weeks claiming an election was stolen when clearly, OBVIOUSLY, it was not. A Republican Senate refusing to provide meaningful, consistent support to those who have been most impacted by the pandemic. Just so many people who do not care about anyone but themselves, or perhaps those who look exactly like them.

It is disgusting.

2020 also took people from us, whether the nearly 350,000 in the US killed by Trump’s failure during this pandemic, or beloved actors like Chadwick Boseman. It took opportunities from us. It took time with family, it took new jobs, it took money, it took energy. There is so much grief out there that so many haven’t begun to process.

A familiar refrain on social media was ‘F*** 2020’ or ‘2020 strikes again,’ to the point that some people started to get indignant at that. Their argument is that things have always been bad for some people, and it’s simplistic and ignorant to just keep blaming the year. Folks, we know that. There aren’t a lot of people out here literally thinking there’s some sort of magic that the numbers 2020 conjure to add to all the bad shit that has happened. But sometimes, one doesn’t have enough characters in a tweet or time in their mind to dive into all that has gone into making an event horrible. 2020 is shorthand for decades, centuries of crap building and building into the mountain we see before us.

My 2020 wasn’t as horrible as it could have been. I was able to see my parents in February, when my dad had surgery. I landed at SFO the same day the last flight from one country in Asia was allowed to land. I was able to visit friends in Seattle just as the first cases were showing up there. When the UK finally went into lock down I was able to seamlessly work from home without issues. And when things started to reopen, my soccer season began, which meant I did get to socialize with people weekly.

But I’ve been mentally exhausted for months. Seeing how poorly things are in the US. Experiencing the horrible response in the UK. Trying to stay in touch even though Zoom meetings suck the life out of me. I’ve been frustrated at not being able to see friends in person, not be able to travel (basically my favorite thing). Shoot, I haven’t browsed a book store in at least ten months and it’s just so strange. And, in perfect 2020 fashion, our refrigerator died on Monday night, so we go into the new year ordering take-out and making due with a mini fridge that fits a few essentials.

So now that 2021 is rolling around, I am not assuming things will be much different. Now, January 20th, that will be a good day for those of us who care about other people, who believe in justice. But we’re still be in the middle of a pandemic. A lot of people who chose to travel or spend time with family outside their bubble over Christmas will be in ICUs or dying from the pandemic, because the vaccine is going to take a long time to get to everyone.

Given that, I’m looking at 2021 as a rebuilding year. At least the first half is going to be just as hard as 2020. I’m not buying any plane tickets just yet, or scheduling any in-person events. My birthday will be spent ordering take-out, because eating in a restaurant is just another way to catch or pass the disease on to others (not that restaurants are even an option in Tier 4 London). Maybe by late spring I’ll go inside a place for more than just the time it takes to grab what I need and go (or to get yet another crown, because my teeth hate me). That’s not totally conducive to the life I want to live, so I’m going to keep focusing on the things I can do while keeping myself and others safe. Working from home (which I know is an immense privilege). Focusing on hobbies I can do at home (reading, sewing, baking). Staying connected through texts and calls. Building my physical and mental strength. And I’m going to continue to focus on building relationships from a place of compassion without compromising my values.

So Happy New Year. May we all manage our expectations for 2021, but may it at least be better than 2020.

Tuesday

22

December 2020

0

COMMENTS

My Year In Books 2020

Written by , Posted in Reviews

I once again hit my reading goal in 2020 – 52 books, one for each week in the year. But even though I had a lot of free time this year, since I no longer had a commute every day, no longer could do most of what I enjoy doing (traveling, going on adventures), I still had a hard time concentrating on books. I would start one and then put it down. I found myself turning to fiction a bit more than usual, reading seven mysteries set in Iceland alone. I also continued reading a lot of books that I characterize as sociology — books on activism, racism, sexism. And made use of audio books much more than in any recent year, taking them in while on the runs that keep me active while we continue with the lock downs in the UK.

I continue to favor books written by women: 38 were written by women; 14 were written by men. Unfortunately, the diversity in race of the authors I read was abysmal: 42 written by white people, eight written by Black people, and two written by Asian people. Last year I also red 42 by white authors, but only two black authors, so I suppose that is a bit of an improvement.

I did travel the world a bit this year, reading books by authors from 10 countries: Australia, Canada, Iceland, India, Ireland, Russia, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, the UK and the US, with the US leading the way at 18 books, followed by the UK with 16 and Iceland with seven. Last year I read authors from 13 countries, but my highest count then was 21 from the US, so this year seems a bit better distributed.

I read 39 non-fiction books and 13 fiction books, seven of which were Icelandic mysteries. I divided books into 15 categories, with sociology and memoir tied for the most common at ten each. I managed to read three ‘travel’ books, which I think were all about various aspects of the the UK.

I only read one 2-star book this year, and was lucky enough to read 10 five-star books, with an average rating of 3.8. So many of these books were great, but I’d have to say that my favorites were:
Catch and Kill
Me and White Supremacy
Hood Feminism
The Guilty Feminist
Evicted

In terms of books that have stuck with me, I think that The Last, which I read before the pandemic and which is about an apocalyptic event that has stranded guests at a hotel, is right up there. If only I’d known what was in store in March when I finished it… The Guilty Feminist and Hood Feminism both had a huge impact on me, as did Me and White Supremacy.

As for the coming year, I have a lot of unread books on my shelves, so I’m going to dive into those, and then see where the year takes me.

Monday

21

December 2020

0

COMMENTS

Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone interested in pursuing a serious yoga practice.

In a nutshell:
Iyengar provides a summary of the history of yoga, beyond what many folks consider when attending yoga classes or watching videos.

Worth quoting:
“The study of Yoga is not like work for a diploma or a university degree by someone desiring favourable results in a stipulated time.”

Why I chose it:
Part of my goal for 2021 is to live more of the life that I want, and building a consistent yoga practice is high on that list.

Review:
This is an interesting book. I’ve always known yoga is not just breathing and stretching, but based more in a broader way of living. As a white woman raised in the US, most of my exposure to yoga has been through Lululemon view. A way to stretch and build strength and relieve stress, without really looking at where yoga comes from. I’ve been in classes where there’s some lip service paid to it, but nothing more.

Obviously, one isn’t going to understand an entire cultural concept like yoga from reading one book. But this is a good starting place. It discusses the connection between what is going on with the body and what is going on in the mind. I’ll need to read it over a few times to understand it better, but again, a good place to start.

After the introduction, Iyengar offers instructions and photos of over 200 poses, which are quite easy to follow. He then has put together three ‘courses,’ spreading across 300 weeks (yes, you read that right). Today I started with course one, which lasts about 32 weeks. It’s been seven or eight years since I regularly practiced yoga, and I can feel it, but I can also see how this is going to work, and I’m excited about it.

Videos are definitely an easy way to start learning yoga, and I don’t think a book can fully replace that for more visual learners, but I do think this book is a great place to start.

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

Friday

18

December 2020

0

COMMENTS

Survival of the Thickest by Michelle Buteau

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Big fans of Michelle Buteau

In a nutshell:
Author and Comedian Michelle Buteau provides a look into her life, sharing both the highs and the lows. CN for miscarriage.

Worth quoting:
N/A (Audio book)

Why I chose it:
I very much enjoyed Buteau in Always Be My Maybe. I’ve recently watched her Netflix special, which also got me chuckling.

Review:
I’m struggling a bit with this review. There are parts of this book that I really loved. She tells a great story, she’s relatable even though she and I don’t have loads in common, and she’s open and honest. There are parts of this book that had me laughing a lot, and parts where I teared up. There are the expected stories about life as a stand-up comedian, and the unexpected honesty about working in a newsroom in NYC on 9/11, and her experiences with miscarriages and surrogacy.

I think my rating is based more on the delivery of the audiobook. It was a bit jarring. I’m used to her style of stand-up and speaking, but there was an unevenness to it all that felt like perhaps she hadn’t read her words out loud before recording. I don’t know. I think for once, I’d say I bet the paper version of the book is better.

On the positive end, the book is filled with a lot of motivating words that don’t feel forced. There’s an almost infectious confidence that comes from Buteau, which I appreciated.

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

Monday

14

December 2020

0

COMMENTS

Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Those interested in learning about different lives

In a nutshell:
Author Margaret Powell shares stories from her life working as a Kitchen Maid in England.

Worth quoting:
“I couldn’t help thinking of my poor father and mother at home. All they had was toast. And all this food going up to them, who never worked. I just couldn’t help thinking of the unfairness of life.”

Why I chose it:
I picked this up at a charity book sale at work just before lock down, then rescued it from my desk in September. It just looked interesting.

Review:
I was looking to learn something about a life that was different from mine, and boy did I find it here. The author starts out sharing what she and her siblings did for fun, but soon switches over to her work life. And it wasn’t just soon in the sense of the book, it was soon in the sense of her life. At 13 she earned a small scholarship and wanted to work to be a teacher, but that would have meant her parents would have had to continue paying for her schooling until she was 18, and that just wasn’t an option. So instead she went to work as a domestic worker in a house at the age of 13.

THIRTEEN. Ack. That’s so young. She lived in the home where she worked with the other domestic workers, so she was not only working but living on her own at an age when I was still in middle school. And she was working HARD. She’d get 4-10pm off one weeknight and one weekend evening each week. Not even a full day off. She’d be up at 5:30 to do tasks, and not be done until 8 or 9 at night. And she was doing hard labour – lots of cleaning and polishing and washing, and this was the 1920s, so she was doing this without the vast majority of conveniences we use when doing similar work.

In addition to the hard work, what she shared about the relationship between the staff and the families in the home was not unbelievable, but was so just … gross. Only one of the many families she worked for seemed to really treat the staff well. One yelled at her for handing the lady of the house something directly, with her hand, as opposed to using a tray to do it. As though the family member couldn’t bear to touch someone so low. I’d love to think times have changed, but considering how poorly people treat people who work in the service industry, I don’t think it’s that different. The location of the disdain has changed, but not the feelings of superiority.

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