ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Saturday

3

December 2022

1

COMMENTS

The Power of Rude by Rebecca Reid

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Women who are tired of being polite to their own detriment.

In a nutshell:
Author Reid offers tips on how to be ‘rude’ in different life situations as a means to stop putting everyone else’s needs above our own.

Worth Quoting:
“My desire not to be rude made me the absolute worst version of myself.”

“…all of this advice comes with a great honking caveat, and that is to keep yourself safe.”

“However, there is a tendency for women to use ‘sorry’ as a catch-all, often when what they really mean is ‘thank you.’ If you can swap out those sorries you can assert yourself as a more competent person.”

Why I chose it:
It looked pretty interesting. Also, I’ve read books and kindness and niceness this year, so it seemed kind of funny to read one about being rude.

Review:
Reid’s main theory is that most women have been socialized to be polite since we were young (the whole ‘he’s mean because he likes you and you should be flattered’ thing that happens in primary school), and we tend to be judged as ‘rude’ for doing things that should not be considered rude. And that this unwillingness to be rude means we are putting ourselves second when we don’t need to.

By rude, Reid means ‘good’ rude, not ‘bad’ rude. Bad rude would be yelling at the waiter when your food comes out wrong; good rude would be kindly telling the waiter about the error and asking for the correct dish; what many of us do is just pick at the food we didn’t order, pay, and leave.

Obviously, it’s more nuanced than Reid saying we should all be jerks. Instead, it’s more about asserting ourselves in situations where normally we might just grin and bear it. Many are things that we might consider quite small and minor, but her theory is that all those little things add up over time. A really basic example is when we get a haircut we don’t like. Instead of just smiling and thanking the hairdresser and then going home and crying, we should say (kindly, and without being an ass) that it hasn’t turned out as requested and then see what can be done to set things right.

I did see myself in many of the suggestions. I’ve definitely put the comfort of others ahead of myself for no good reason. And that’s the key – this book isn’t about putting one’s self first above all else. She’s saying that our focus shouldn’t be on trying to spare feelings when someone else is wrong and there is a (safe) way to work to make it right. It’s okay to point out a problem or issue and seek to rectify it – the key is to not be ‘bad’ rude about it.

She also operates in the real world, so in the section on dating, for example, she repeatedly points out that while we SHOULD be able to say ‘I’m not interested’ to a man instead of pretending we have a boyfriend to get him to go away, society isn’t there yet, as that can still be a physically dangerous situation for a woman to find herself in.

I also appreciate that Reid caveats what she says by acknowledging that women of color will have a tougher go in situations than a white woman like her, and that they often carry an even greater burden of being judged rude when they are merely being assertive.

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

Thursday

24

November 2022

0

COMMENTS

The World Record Book of Racist Stories by Amber Ruffing & Lacey Lamar

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
Everyone, but I mean, white folks do really need to give it a read.

In a nutshell:
This is a follow-up to Ruffin and Lamar’s previous book, You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey.

Worth quoting:
“That’s why a lot of white people act the way they do: they have a five year old’s understanding of the word ‘racist.’”

Why I chose it:
I wanted to read their first book but haven’t been able to find an audio version in the UK. Thankfully this one was just released here so I downloaded it immediately.

Review:
I chose the audio version of this book and am thrilled that I did, because hearing Ruffin and Lamar read these stories – and their reactions to them – I think brings them even more to life that if I had read them on the page.

The stories themselves range from exhausting to devastating, but the book isn’t heavy in the way one might expect, because Ruffin and Lamar are excellent storytellers. They allow for levity, mostly focused around the absolute absurdity of so much of the racism they encounter. But they never seem to be downplaying or excusing anything they’ve experienced – it’s all shitty and it’s all unacceptable.

My understanding is that this book differs from their first one by expanding the pool of stories to their entire family and even some friends. So we have stories of racism not just from between now and the 80s, but also from where their parents were younger adults in the 60s, and stories that their siblings share.

There is so much in this book that is just utterly infuriating. I appreciate that Ruffin and Lamar (and their family and friends) have taken the time to share these stories with us.

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

Thursday

17

November 2022

0

COMMENTS

All Things Aside by Iliza Shlesinger

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Fans of humorous essays and memoirs. Fans of Shlesinger.

In a nutshell:
Stand up comedian Shlesinger shares observations about life. Sometimes very funny, often insightful, sometimes weirdly ignorant.

Worth quoting:
“But that question, ‘What am I doing this for?,’ is one I constantly ask myself.”

“In my mind, there’s still time.”

Why I chose it:
I’ve found Shlesinger’s stand-up specials on Netflix to be funny at times, and the book looked like something I’d probably enjoy. And for the most part, I did.

Review:
Hmmmm. There is so much about this book that I enjoyed. As someone who is only a couple of years older than Shlesinger, I could relate to a lot of her nostalgia and pop culture references. Some of the essays are just that – collections of things she likes or doesn’t, and it’s fun. It works. I enjoyed those parts.

Interestingly – and possibly ironically – the part that grated on me were when she was so focused on preemptively being defensive about her opinions. Obviously Shlesinger is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea – no one is EVERYONE’s cup of tea – but she’s clearly terrified of ‘being canceled.’ The thing is, most of her opinions are pretty chill if you’re someone who cares about other humans. Like, she wants women to have rights. She doesn’t express racist opinions. She supports trans folks. But she repeatedly emphasizes that she thinks people are too quick to judge and too quick to cancel and … maybe? But are they? Louise CK is on tour. Johnny Depp walked in Rhianna’s label’s fashion show. Like, most (white) people who get canceled are doing JUST fine.

But one area where she seems to really dig in her heels is ableism. She just cannot seem to understand the problem with using outdated terms like crazy, lame, or insane. And look, I definitely still have trouble finding good replacements, as I’ve spent much of my life using those words. But I acknowledge that they are problematic and I try to be better. But she doesn’t even seem to accept that there is an issue here. In fact, early on, she shares that a sensitivity reader (which, come on, that’s awesome that she had her book reviewed by a sensitivity reader) suggested that her use of the word insane was flagged. And instead of thinking ‘hey, you know what, that term is loaded and has been applied to both people with mental health issues and people who are a little different so maybe I can use my creativity and come up with another way to say this,’ she says “lest someone who identifies as insane read this book and take umbrage.” No! That’s not what we’re saying … ugh. She’s so close and yet really misses the point here. And annoyingly she follows this with “Pick a real hill to die on, folks, not every anthill you trip over.” Mental health an the treatment of disabled people is not an anthill.

Sigh.

No author, and certainly no comedian who chooses to put themselves out there is going to get everything right. And I think she does get a lot right. I just hope when she rereads her book in a few years, she recognizes that she’s grown and moved past this need to dig her heels in about language like that.

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

Sunday

13

November 2022

0

COMMENTS

The Unseen Body by Jonathan Reisman

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

Four Stars

Best for:
Those interested in the human body, but also books that can’t quite be categorized.

In a nutshell:
Author Reisman discusses different parts of the human body while also sharing his experiences with it, his experiences with patients, and … sometimes food?

Worth quoting:
“Empathy is not always easy, but it always matters.”

“The medical community’s ignorance, as well as our biases, means that the nutrition advice we give to patients changes constantly.”

Why I chose it:
I like kind of weird little books like this one.

Review:
Reisman went to medical school a bit later in life, so he had some time between university and medical school to travel, work other jobs, and get to know himself a bit, and I think that helps give this book a different feel than other books about the human body. It’s not ‘funny’ like a Mary Roach book, but it does have moments of humor. It’s more poetic, but it isn’t written like prose. It’s hard to label.

That said, it was fun to read. Each chapter focuses on one part of the body – usually an organ, though sometimes something like urine or our fingers and toes. In each chapter he shares some facts about the organ, but doesn’t deeply dive into it. Instead, he then usually shares a story of his experience learning about the organ, and a patient who he treated who had difficulties with that organ. He then often shares his own experience, though not often in expected ways. Many of the chapters, for example, talk about the organs as food (not the human version, obviously). For example, did you know that it is illegal in the US to sell lungs to humans for consumption as food? Has been since the early 1970s (and Scotland is mad, because Haggis includes animal lungs, so they can’t export it to the US).

The chapter on the brain I found to be most interesting, because Reisman doesn’t focus on what one might expect – say, dementia – but instead on the impact of altitude on the brain. He worked briefly in the Himalayas, and treated mild and severe altitude sickness. It was a fascinating chapter and a different take on the brain than what I’ve read in other books.

There is also a chapter on fat, and while it was a little challenging to read because he still uses words that pathologize weight, it was one of the more responsible and reasonable discussions I’ve seen a medical professional put in writing when talking about fat. The example of the patient he treated who was fat mostly focused on how poorly the medical community treats fat people, from doctors refusing to provide treatment to equipment not being accommodating to the size and weight of these patients.

This is probably closer to a 3.5 rating, but it’s just such an odd book sort of masquerading as a standard non-fiction popular science book that I rounded up for that.

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

Sunday

6

November 2022

0

COMMENTS

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
Fans of really well written science fiction. Those who like a bit of humor in their fiction.

In a nutshell:
Ryland Grace has just awoken, alone, on a space ship.

Worth quoting:
There were quite a few fun little lines, but I was too busy inhaling this book to take note.

Why I chose it:
The Martian was one of my favorite books of the year when I read it. I think I consumed it in just a few days, and then handed it over to my partner to read. He then read Artemis and didn’t enjoy it, so I passed. But this one? He said it was much more like The Martian so I should check it out.

Review:
Ugh. How can I review this book without spoiling it? I’m not sure I can. But I’m going to try to do it with just some mild spoilers.

There is something that is impacting the Sun, which in turn will totally fuck up the Earth. Dealing with it will require serious space travel.

Ryland Grace is, we learn, a biologist turned junior high school teacher. We also know that he is on a space ship, and he doesn’t recall why he is there. From there … events transpire. And they are page-turning in the way a really great work of fiction is.

I enjoy Weir’s writing style immensely – he does science exposition in a way I’ve never experienced before. I just love it. The book goes back and forth in time, so we slowly learn – along with Grace – exactly what has transpired to get him there, as well as following along with him as he problem-solves a whole lot of … stuff.

See? Really hard to review without spoilers. But if you like The Martian, I’m going to bet you will like this one.

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

Saturday

5

November 2022

0

COMMENTS

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those interested in what life can be like for a child actor with an abusive parent.

In a nutshell:
Jennette McCurdy became famous as part of a hit Nickelodeon television series. Behind the scenes, she was doing everything she could to please her abusive, narcissistic mother.

Worth quoting:
N/A (Audiobook)

Why I chose it:
I’ve seen it in so many shops, and it is a memoir read by the author – basically half of what I’ve been reading lately.

Review:
Damn. Content note for this book includes disordered eating, substance use disorder, physical abuse.

First, a note specific to the audio book – the way that McCurdy reads her writing is extremely deadpan and very quick. Basically the absolute opposite of Making a Scene (Constance Wu’s memoir I just read as an audio book last month). There’s only one moment where the author allows emotion to creep through, and it’s noticeable and shocking. I’m not sure if this was a production choice, or how she talks, but the book goes by so quickly that I almost get the feeling that she just wanted to get the reading over with. Not in a bad way – I don’t think she dislikes her own book – but so much of what she discussed is unpleasant, I’d imagine it’s not exactly fun to give voice to it after having already written and edited it.

Alright, this is an intense book. It’s about McCurdy’s life, having to navigate her mother’s abuse without fully realizing that it was, in fact abuse. It’s not a pleasant story. But it’s also not trauma porn, if that makes sense. Maybe it’s because of McCurdy’s matter-of-fact delivery, or because she’s a talented writer. The things she shares could have resulted in an extremely depressing book – and it is definitely dark – but it’s not hopeless? It’s also not … hopeful? It’s just someone sharing her story, realistically, with all the crap that was there.

I am a bit too old to have watched McCurdy on TV, but I have heard of the show she was on. It sounds like it was unpleasant a lot of the time, and that the producers (one in particular) were not there to look out for the kids acting on the show. There is one point in the book where she is essentially offered hush money to never discuss her experiences at Nickelodeon (and it’s not a small amount of money), but she declines, and I think damn, good for her. By sharing her experience, perhaps others will be spared some of what she went through.

The main focus of the book is McCurdy’s relationship with her mother, who is obsessed with McCurdy being a successful child actor. She home schools McCurdy (and her three brothers), and puts McCurdy in dance classes, acting classes. She’s basically the stereotype of a stage mother, and is deeply emotionally abusive as she basically puts all of her hopes and dreams and pressure on McCurdy, and McCurdy spends all of her time desperate to keep her mother happy. There’s a point where McCurdy starts to go through puberty, and her mother ‘helps’ her out by teaching her disordered eating. Like, intentionally. It’s so deeply fucked up. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Now, obviously the parent of every child actor isn’t going to be like McCurdy’s. But damn, I do wonder about what life is like for the kids who act. My grandmother was a studio teacher in Hollywood in the 60s and 70s, but she passed away when I was young so I didn’t get a chance to ever really ask her about what life was like for the kids she looked after. I can’t imagine it was great then. I know laws have been passed in California protecting the wages of child actors, and limiting their time on set and such, but I don’t know what can be done for the children who don’t really want to be there, or are only there because they are desperate to please their abusive parents.

I’m happy this book seems to be getting so much attention, and I hope that McCurdy is able to continue healing and finding work that she chooses to do, not work she is expected to do.

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

Wednesday

2

November 2022

0

COMMENTS

How (Not) To Be Strong by Alex Scott

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Football fans. Football players. Fans of awesome women. Fans of Alex Scott.

In a nutshell:
Former professional football (soccer to US folks) player and current broadcaster Alex Scott opens up about her life.

Worth quoting:
“There was this underlying current that, somehow, playing in America meant we were getting too big for our boots. When in reality, being in America was making me a better player for England. But it helped me understand the part of the English character that feels it has to cut others down to size, rather than encourage them to grow.”

“Why would I saw sorry for the sake of it? My words were already limited, I had no interest in wasting them on something I didn’t mean.”

Why I chose it:
I love playing and watching football – especially the women’s game.

Review:
I’ve reviewed a few memoirs written by professional football players – nearly all of them women. Whenever I go to a bookstore I visit the football section, and there are usually none written by or about women, but when there is one, I usually buy it. Even if I don’t really know the player well, I want to support and encourage these books so that people of all genders see better representation in football. I love playing (I play twice a week these days, despite my advancing age) and I want more people to be able to experience that joy if they are interested in playing.

This summer, England hosted the Euros – a tournament held every four years pitting national European teams against each other. No England team – men or women – have ever won it. And this year, the women did. In front of a massive sold-out crowd at Wembley. And Alex Scott was there, not as a player, but as a pundit, hosting the coverage. Her excitement was infectious – she had played with some of these players, back when she had to work in the laundry at Arsenal (the same club she played for!) to earn enough money. Because the women’s game wasn’t paid at the professional level. And she shares stories about that time, and about what football has meant to her.

This isn’t, however, just a book about a women who was the best in the world at her position in a sport. It’s an extremely open, vulnerable, honest collection of stories about a kid with an alcoholic and abusive father. About a young woman in a relationship with her teammate. About a teen who needed a different kind of support in school that she eventually found while pursuing her degree at university. About a Black woman navigating racist and sexist abuse on-line.

Scott is brutally honest (or at least, she doesn’t appear to be holding anything back). One chapter I didn’t read – it’s a letter to her mom. I read the first couple of pages but it was so heartfelt and personal I almost felt like I was intruding by reading it. Despite covering some very serious topics, this was a surprisingly easy, quick read. I finished it really rooting for her, and excited to see what she will get up to next.

(As an aside as someone who has played at the grassroots level in both the US and UK, it was interesting to get her perspective on the cultural differences that I feel at times when playing.)

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

Monday

31

October 2022

0

COMMENTS

Is It Just Me? By Miranda Hart

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People looking for a gentle, sweet, memoir with some nice little life lessons and a few chuckles.

In a nutshell:
Actress and comedian Hart shares stories and lessons of her life through the mechanism of talking to her younger self.

Worth quoting:
N/A (Audiobook)

Why I chose it:
Hart always struck me as a kind and fun woman. Plus, as a fellow very tall woman, I appreciate that she’s been able to make a career in film and television.

Review:
I first became aware of Hart when she played in Spy with Melissa McCarthy. She made me laugh a lot, and I was surprised when she showed up in Call the Midwife, which I started watching from the beginning after I moved to the UK. When this book showed up as a suggestion in Audible, I figured I’d check it out.

I listened to this in two parts, with a two month break in between, so I’m afraid my recall of the first half is a bit limited. However I can speak to the overall feel of this book, and it’s that of drinking a hot chocolate while cuddled up on the couch on a Sunday afternoon. It’s not offensive (save for some outdated language that I’d imagine she would have revised were she writing this today) – it’s just sweet. It’s encouraging and supportive, and also self-deprecating in a way that feels authentic.

The rhetorical device Hart employs (which works quite well in audio form) is that she’s sharing tips and stories with her 18-year-old self, while talking to us, the reader. She is 38 at the time of writing this, and has some suggestions. It’s a simple concept, but at times it’s a bit deep, as she captures well the assumptions our younger selves make and how that doesn’t often match reality. And that isn’t sad or anything, it’s just … different. It’s most stark when ‘Little M’ (e.g. 18-year-old Miranda) make some assumptions that author Miranda is married and has children. Which she isn’t and doesn’t. And that’s not a bad thing for older Miranda, but it doesn’t fit what Little M expects.

It got me thinking about what those of us who are creeping closer to middle age would say to our younger selves. What expectations did we have? What dreams did we let go of because it made sense to, or our interests changes? Conversely, which dreams did we let go of that we could perhaps pick up again? What’s changed? What mortifying or hilarious events in our youth do we view differently now, with some time, space, and a bit more wisdom? I’m not sure Hart imagined her book would invoke such thoughts, but maybe she did. If so, job well done!

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
N/A (Audiobook)

Sunday

30

October 2022

0

COMMENTS

How Iceland Changed The World by Egill Bjarnason

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone with some interest in world history, or Icelandic history.

In a nutshell:
Author Bjarnason provides a condensed (and at times humorous) history of Iceland.

Worth quoting:
“…claim, respectively, that Icelander live for up to 150 to 300 years — because of the pure climate, or course. Which I’d say is fair reasoning: the human body is organic, and we all know that vegetables and other organic things last longer in the fridge.”

“Few countries are as vulnerable to global warming as Iceland. Glaciers have retreated by about 850 square miles since the end of the nineteenth century…”

Why I chose it:
I have a goal of spending one year living in Iceland. I visited in summer 2018 for four days and absolutely loved it, and have been trying to sort out how to return ever since.

Review:
Aside from transiting through the airport a handful of times, I didn’t get to properly visit Iceland until about four years ago. We stayed outside of Reykjavik, and visited a few of the amazing natural wonders, such as Gullfoss and where the continental plates meet. I’m pretty desperate to visit in the winter and see the Northern Lights. If you read my book reviews, you also know that I’m a fan of the crime novels that the nation has produced. So naturally when I saw this book I figured I would need to read it, and I’m so glad I did.

This is not a book of anecdotes or cute facts to share at parties. But it contains many of them. It’s a chronology that follows many hundreds of years of life on that very small island at the top of Europe, known to many outside of it as the place with the volcano that stopped air travel in 2010, or the place with the men’s football team that knocked England out of the Euros in 2016 (despite having a very tiny pool to draw players from). Maybe it’s known to you as the place where that Will Farrell / Rachel McAdams Eurovision movie was set, or where they filmed parts of Game of Thrones?

However you might know about Iceland, this book will likely teach you things you didn’t know. For example, did you know that a woman from Iceland reached North America about 500 years before that genocidal asshole Columbus? Or that Iceland played a role in the creation of Israel? That it featured in the space race and the Cold War?

Bjarnason is a great writer, making history interesting. I was able to picture every era and place he described, and I chuckled quite a few times as he wove his factual accounts with a little bit of humor. Books like this can be tricky to pull off, but he does it and does it well.

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

Sunday

30

October 2022

0

COMMENTS

Making a Scene by Constance Wu

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Rating: 3 Stars

Best for:
Fans of Constance Wu. People interested in learning about the impact of different aspects of Hollywood on actors.

In a nutshell:
Actress Wu shares stories from her life, mostly focusing on her non-famous time.

Worth quoting:
N/A (Audiobook)

Why I chose it:
I only know Wu from her starring role in Crazy Rich Asians, but this sounded interesting.

Review:
This is a book I find hard to review. I want to commend Wu for how open and honest she is, and how she confronts challenges she’s faced as well as times when she hasn’t acted in the way one would want. Basically, I don’t think she’s sugar-coated anything here. She’s vulnerable, and doesn’t make herself the ‘good guy’ all the time, but she has enough self-awareness where she doesn’t come across as oblivious to any damage her actions may have caused.

That said, I generally wasn’t that interesting in the stories she was telling. That isn’t to say the pieces of herself she chose to share were uninteresting or bad – they just weren’t quite for me. Hence the middling rating.

I do think this is a well-written book. I think I actually might have enjoyed it better had I read it instead of hearing the author read it, because at times it felt like she was acting the stories (intentionally at times), which was leading me to a specific feeling. With a written book, I think there’s a bit more opportunity for the reader to make their own interpretations and conclusions. Though, thinking more on it – is that appropriate for a memoir? Does my opinion of things really matter? It’s not my life, after all.

The aspect that most reviews have focused on was the harassment she faced from a producer while working on Fresh Off the Boat, and her suicidal period after being harassed off Twitter for expressing disappointment at the series being renewed. And those bits are infuriating for sure. But I think her vulnerability around her relationships is also interesting – her romantic relationships, her relationship with her mother, and her relationship with her younger sister. They are complex and complicated situations, and she navigates them without always making herself sound like a victim – she has agency, and sometimes makes good decisions and sometimes doesn’t.

I’m not sure if I would recommend this book, but if it’s on your TBR list, I’d imagine you’ll probably find it a worthwhile read.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
N/A (Audiobook)