ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Monday

29

May 2023

0

COMMENTS

No Time Like the Future by Michael J. Fox

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
People interested in Michael J. Fox, or how anyone (with resources) handles chronic illness.

In a nutshell:
Michael J. Fox shares some of the challenges he has recently faced over the last decade or so.

Worth quoting:
N/A (Audio book)

Why I chose it:
My partner and I watched ‘Still,’ the documentary on AppleTV+ that just come out about Michael J. Fox. It was a well done, unique documentary, and it made me interested in learning more about the actor.

What it left me feeling:
Grounded

Review:
When I was watching the aforementioned documentary, I realized that I haven’t seen much of Fox’s work. I’m sure we watched Family Ties while I was growing up, and I’ll always stop and watch any of the Back to the Future movies when they are on. But I’ve not seen his other films, or really his other TV work. But I am familiar with his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis, and that he and his family and friends built the Michael J. Fox foundation.

This is the third (or possibly fourth?) book Fox has written, so it isn’t a full-on, birth-to-now memoir. While he does reference parts of his childhood and coming up in acting, the focus is mostly on his family life, his career, and the surgeries, injuries, and recoveries he’s experienced in the 2010s. For many of us, I’m not sure a ten year span would be enough to warrant a full memoir, but Fox has plenty to share.

He discusses the serious spinal surgery he had that, if it had gone wrong, could have left him using a wheelchair for good. He discusses some of the specifics about Parkinson’s that makes him more prone to falls, and his frustration with just wanting to do things himself, at his own pace. He discusses at length how he feels about his relationships with his wife and his four children and how his physical challenges play a part in that.

Fox is a great writer (and a great story-teller; I listened to the audio version and am glad I did). The story flows, and is full of both vulnerability, honesty, and gratitude. I couldn’t help but think about the people who have similar diagnoses to him but who don’t have the monetary resources or the strong family and friend support network, and I got the sense from this book that he’s well aware of how much that financial and emotional support matters to him.

If you only have room for one Fox-related bit of pop culture this month, I’d say go with the documentary, but if you have room for two, this book is worth picking up.

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

Sunday

28

May 2023

0

COMMENTS

The High Girders by John Prebble

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People interested in engineering disasters.

In a nutshell:
In the 1870s, the first of its kind bridge was erected across the Tay river firth to Dundee, in Scotland. 18 months after it opened, it collapsed during a severe windstorm, taking a train with 75 passengers and crew down with it.

Worth quoting:
“It was the Victorian age, and life and death had Purpose. There could be no disaster without a moral.”

Why I chose it:
I think I might have a new book goal: when I visit a city, go to the ‘local’ section and find a book written about whatever incident / disaster / historic event is most infamous in that city. Additionally, I had arrived in Dundee on a train running on the rebuilt bridge that runs parallel to the original collapsed bridge.

What it left me feeling:
Informed.

Review:
You know what’s kind of weird? Reading a book about the collapse of a rail bridge, while sitting on a train, running over the bridge that was built in place of that very collapsed bridge.

The Tay River Bridge was built in the 1870s. Before it was build, people coming up from Edinburgh would need to take a ferry across the Firth of Forth, then a train up to Newport, then ANOTHER ferry across to Dundee, and then a train the rest of the way. Civil engineer Thomas Bouch had an idea for a bridge to cross the First of Tay (and later the First of Forth), reducing the time it would take to make the trip up north dramatically.

Prebble manages to take what could be a pretty dry story – the lead-up to the disaster – and make it interesting. The prologue is just a couple of pages of the accident from the perspective of a rail employee who last saw the train before it started crossing the bridge. After that is Act 1, which focuses on how the bridge was built. There is corporate fighting between rail lines, there is government lobbying and back room deals. Then there are issues with the building of the bridge itself, including inaccurate surveying of the sea floor that misrepresented where the bedrock was. There’s unsurprisingly a couple of accidents, resulting in the deaths of 20 workers. Workers who, in 2023 pounds, were making about £5.56/hour ($6.86/hour) doing absolutely terrifying labor.

The entr’acte focuses on the 18 months when the bridge was open; specifically, on how some people stopped riding the train across because they were concerns about how quickly the trains were running. The original inspector said that trains should run at a maximum of 25 mph over the bridge; individuals believed it was being pushed to 40 mph.

The second act is about the disaster itself and the resulting inquest into who was at fault. I spent nearly 15 years in emergency preparedness and response, and disasters that take place in the 1800s are a different level of terrifying because there was just very limited technology. The train went into the Tay around 7:20 at night (it was December, so very dark this far north), and people didn’t really even realize it for many minutes. And there wasn’t a huge mobilization immediately to search for survivors – things took hours to get organized. Only one body was recovered in the first week; 25 of the 75 were never recovered. Identification of those whose remains were found was visual; distraught family members had to come and take a look at someone who had been in the river for more than a week. Leaders in the Scottish church blamed the victims because the rail was running on a Sunday, adding another level of devastation to grieving families.

This book was a very easy read, and would have a higher rating if not for the authors sexism and classism. The women were always described as sort of dim, or faint of heart, or looking to their husbands for guidance. He also described some as ‘dumpy,’ which, 1950s or not, what a random and unnecessarily cruel descriptor. In terms of the classism, the regard he held for the works who built the bridge seemed more about pity than respect.

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

Monday

22

May 2023

0

COMMENTS

She and Her Cat by Makoto Shinkai and Naruki Nagakawa

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Fans of sweet little stories. And of cats.

In a nutshell:
Multiple cats and multiple humans change each others’ lives.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
CATS!

What it left me feeling:
Calm.

Review:
What a very sweet, deep book. It is told from the perspectives of multiple cats, some related to each other. It is also told from the perspective of the humans who come into contact with these cats.

One human is trying to figure out what to do with her life. Another is in a job but very lonely, unsure of the status of her romantic life. Another is filled with guilt over something that happened to her friend. A fourth is facing life on her own for the first time in years.

I am one of two humans who was chosen to take care of two special cats. They turn 12 in a month, and we’ve had them for nearly that long. They make my life better in every way – one of them has for the last six months been sleeping curled up next to my head at night. I adore dogs as well, but there is something about cats – their independence, the way they show love, their curiosity – that just feels different.

This book isn’t long, and very little ‘happens’ in it. But the humans are living lives I think so many people can relate to, and the cats are living their own lives too. Seeing how the humans care for the cats, and the cats for their humans, it’s just so sweet, and such a lovely commentary on life.

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

 

Sunday

21

May 2023

0

COMMENTS

The Maid: A Novel by Nita Prose

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoyed ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’

In a nutshell:
Molly is a maid at a fancy hotel, who discovers the dead body of a prominent hotel guest.

Worth quoting:
“Everything will be okay in the end. And if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

Why I chose it:
I think it had a lot of buzz around it last year so wanted to check it out.

What it left me feeling:
Maternal (for the main character); frustrated.

Review:
It’s been awhile since I read ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine,’ but within minutes of starting this book, the main character reminded me of Eleanor. Molly is 25, a hotel maid, and lives alone after the grandmother who raised her died nine months ago. She’s someone who is formal but kind. Someone who always follows the rules and expects others to do the same. She reminds me of a character from that movie ‘The Invention of Lying;’ she doesn’t assume anyone could be telling her anything other than the complete truth.

Molly is the narrator of this book, and there are times when I want to hug her and times when I wanted to shake her. She misses so many clues and cues about what is going on, both before and after she discovers the body of Mr Black in the room she is set to clean. She’s someone who others judge for being a bit different, and who could easily be taken advantage of.

I originally was leaning towards a 3 or 3.5 star rating for this, but as I’ve been writing this review and reflecting on what I read, I think the book deserves a bit more. On the one hand, yes, it’s a bit of a murder mystery / thriller, but it’s also a look into how humans treat each other. How people can be taken advantage of, either because they don’t have better options, or because they don’t know any better. How employers, supervisors, colleagues can exploit workers. It’s also a commentary on how quick we are to judge people who perhaps don’t act in the ways we would, or react to situations how we think people should react.

To note: I chose the audio version, which was read by Lauren Ambrose. Some will associate her with Six Feet Under, but she’ll always be Denise from Can’t Hardly Wait. Her reading of the book did a lot to help us understand Molly.

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

Thursday

18

May 2023

0

COMMENTS

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those interested in Buddhism.

In a nutshell:
Zen priest Hagen offers his take on Buddha’s observations.

Worth quoting:
“First, you must truly realize that life is fleeting. Next, you must understand that you are already complete, worthy, whole. Finally, you must see that you are your own refuge, your own sanctuary, your own salvation.”

Why I chose it:
Continuing my spiritual journey. (I’ve always assumed I’m way too sarcastic for that level of sincerity, but here we are.)

What it left me feeling:
Content

Review:
This book is both extremely straightforward and also challenging. Not because of the writing, but because of the concepts. And even that isn’t the best way for me to describe it.

Hagen breaks the book into three parts. In the first, he looks at what he calls ‘The Perennial Problem’, basically the human condition as most people experience it. In the second, called ‘The Way to Wake Up,’ he explores different concepts: wisdom, morality, practice, and freedom. In the final section, ‘Free Mind,’ he looks deeper into Truth and Reality.

This is the kind of book that I’m still processing, and that I’ll read again. I think that’s kind of the case with books of this type – it’s not something that one just reads and sets up on the shelf, or put in the donation bin. The way the information is presented generally worked for me – the chapters were fairly short, and there are some good examples to help solidify the ideas. But it requires a lot of thinking from me. I think that’s the point, though. Not that it requires a lot of thinking (one might even argue that goes against the main points of the book!), but that it’s got me thinking in the right direction.

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

Wednesday

17

May 2023

0

COMMENTS

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

Four Stars

Best for:
People who enjoy thrillers. Not for people who are triggered by discussions of abusive partners.

In a nutshell:
Tallulah is 19 and lives with her mother, 1 year-old-son, and her boyfriend Zach. One night, Tallulah and Zach go missing, and the people they were with ostensibly didn’t know them very well. Tallulah’s mother Kim tries to figure what has happened, and is helped when new clues appear a year later.

Worth quoting:
N/A – Audio book

Why I chose it:
I enjoyed her other books I read this year.

What it left me feeling:
Satisfied and surprised.

Review:
CN: Intimate partner abuse

This was a great book, helped along by the voice acting in the version I listened to – narrated by Joanne Froggatt. Considering there were at least a half dozen women’s voices she had to do, she managed to make them so distinct that I could easily follow what was going on.

The plot itself is once again a back and forth in time. We keep moving from the disappearance (June 2017), forward to the investigation as it is reopened in August / September 2018, then back to the 2016/2017 academic year to help us understand more of the situation. But the basics are: Tallulah is a young mother who, in 2017, had only reunited with her son’s father about nine months prior. She is someone who keeps to herself, focusing on school and her child.

Scarlett is someone who Tallulah perhaps knew? Perhaps not? The story unfolds but Scarlett is the home that Tallulah and Zach are last seen at before they disappear. Zach is also seen as a doting father and boyfriend, but its possible that isn’t the case.

Kim is Tallulah’s mother, who is now caring for her son and desperate to figure out what has happened. And Sophie is the partner of the new headmaster of the school Tallulah and Scarlett attend, and also happens to be the author of many detective novels.

As with the other books I’ve read by this author, I could possibly see some of the twists coming, but nothing was so foreshadowed that it was obvious. And once again, the epilogue brought resolution to a side storyline that I didn’t know I needed resolution to, and was a disturbing little addition that I appreciated.

As an aside – Jewell is really good at writing creepy men. Sometimes they are outright violent, sometimes it’s more emotional, but I could see this book being triggering for anyone who has been manipulated and abused by a partner.

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

Thursday

11

May 2023

0

COMMENTS

Dying of Politeness by Geena Davis

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoy a fairly light Hollywood memoir that primarily focuses on the industry while also providing some glimpses into one’s personal life.

In a nutshell:
Actor Geena Davis shares stories from her life.

Worth quoting:
“If a human can do it, I can do it.”

Why I chose it:
Looking for a fun listen while starting up running again.

What it left me feeling:
Impressed.

Review:
I didn’t know much about Davis’s life before reading this. I was familiar with her work in Beetlejuice and A League of Their Own, and Thelma and Louise. I also was vaguely aware of her work on gender representation in media. This book helped me feel like I know her a bit better now, though not a ton more, and she’s pretty upfront about that.

Davis has been acting since the 80s. She’s been in some very high profile films, and also had some fairly high-profile romances, including marriages to Jeff Goldblum and Renny Harlin. After finishing this book, I find her to be a bit intriguing. She’s honest throughout about her challenges with speaking up for herself and her need to be polite, but she also seems to have been blessed with a naivete that some could mistake for gumption. She would just do things that others would never dream of (such as pretending to be an animatronic mannequin, or sitting next to the director on set), but not because she wanted to be subversive – she just thought it would be interesting or cool or help her career.

One of the through lines of this book is her growth in her ability to speak up for herself, which culminates in her creating the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. It started out as a way to look at gender representation in children’s media, but now looks at other historically underrepresented identities as well. She also talks about taking up archery and making it quite far in the sport, which I found fascinating.

I appreciate that Davis chose to draw a line around her children – she doesn’t talk about their conception or really much of anything having to do with them. I’d imagine that will disappoint some people, since she had her kids at 46 and 48 respectively. She does touch on the inappropriate questions she received from the media about that, but explains that its just none of our business. And I respect that. She is open about her childhood, and her relationship with her parents and her husbands, but she chooses to keep that private. Good for her – we’re not entitled to all that information.

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

Saturday

6

May 2023

1

COMMENTS

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Written by , Posted in Feminism, Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
People who like a really well-plotted, well-written books that have some truly unexpected moments.

In a nutshell:
Elizabeth Zott is a chemist in the 1950s and 1960s, when women aren’t really allowed to be. Or at least, not supported to be. This is the story of her life, and how it intertwines with others.

Worth quoting:
“…and one who went along because she, like so many other women, assumed that downgrading someone of her own sex would somehow lift her in the estimation of her male superiors.”

“Courage is the root of change — and change is what we’re chemically designed to do.”

Why I chose it:
When enough people mention a book …

What it left me feeling:
Satisfied.

Review:
I don’t tend to use a lot of trite expressions in my book reviews. At least, I don’t think I do. But my goodness, I want to use all of them. I devoured this book. It’s nearly 400 pages and I read it in two days. I didn’t want to put it down, and was annoyed when I had to do things like get off the bus, or go to sleep, because that meant I wasn’t able to keep reading.

This book is special. The main characters are not ‘likeable’ but they aren’t not likeable. They don’t exist for us to project our feelings onto – they are their own people, who are flawed and who experience things in life that are not fair. Especially the focus of the book, Elizabeth Zott. She is brilliant, and she is stymied at every turn by men and women who feel threatened by her.

But there are also men who believe in her, and support her, and women who believe in her, and support her. And she works to help other women believe in themselves, and change their lives.

The book isn’t all an upward trajectory; there are some very dark moments. There is sexual assault. There is death. But there is also a very sweet dog, and a precocious child, and people who care for others. Ultimately this is a book that shows what people are capable of – the good and the bad. I loved it.

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

Saturday

6

May 2023

0

COMMENTS

Me vs Brain by Hayley Morris

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
People who find their brain — and their heart, lungs, possibly uterus — talking to them.

In a nutshell:
Tik Tok comedian Hayley Morris shares how she’s dealt with intrusive thoughts and other life challenges with her signature wit.

Worth quoting:
So much made me giggle, but this was an audio book so I didn’t end up writing any down.

Why I chose it:
I follow her on Tik Tok and her shit is hilarious.

What it left me feeling:
Warm and fuzzy

Review:
What a delightful book. I’d heard Morris was releasing one, but forgot until I saw it in a bookshop. But then I quickly checked if there was an audio version read by her, as knowing what her Tik Tok style is, I knew that would be the way to go. And boy was I right.

Each chapter of the book involves some part of Morris vs either another part of her (e.g. me vs brain) or vs something in the world (such as dating). She does the voices of each, and it’s so, so funny. But also wise. And relateable. While I haven’t experienced all the things she has, I can very much relate to things like intrusive thoughts and feeling internal conflict. She is able to make jokes about serious things in way that I found both charming and deeply honest.

As I said, I think it’s really key to get the audio version (or both, if you want to be really supportive) because the voices and the humor really come through with Morris’s delivery.

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

Saturday

6

May 2023

0

COMMENTS

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoy well-written memoirs that involve a religious upbringing.

In a nutshell:
Author Lockwood was raised by her father, a Catholic priest. Unusual, no?

Worth quoting:
“I know all women are supposed to be strong enough now to strangle presidents and patriarchies between their powerful thighs, but it doesn’t work that way. Many of us were actually affected, by male systems and male anger, in ways we cannot always articulate or overcome.”

Why I chose it:
This was recommended to me at a bookstore after a discussion of the types of books I enjoy.

What it left me feeling:
Vaguely annoyed.

Review:
On paper (heh) this is the type of book I enjoy. It is extraordinarily well-written; Lockwood has a talent with words. It involves someone who has rebelled against the expectations put on them. But something about this book just wasn’t for me.

Lockwood’s father started out as a member of clergy of a different religion, one that allows the church leaders to be married. He then decided to convert to Catholicism, when he already had a wife and some kids. Apparently if one converts and passes some tests, one can be a married Catholic priest.

Obviously, there aren’t many people like Lockwood’s father, so her experience isn’t one people can necessarily directly relate to. However, as someone who is no longer a part of the faith that her family practices, I’m sure her story is relateable to many. And it is impressive that despite not sharing some many strong beliefs with her father, mother, and siblings, her family is still supportive of her. So supportive, in fact, that the majority of this book is written while Lockwood is living with her husband at her parent’s home after some back luck with employment.

I think the challenge I had with this book is that Lockwood’s father is not someone I can like or support. He’s misogynistic and just strikes me a deeply unpleasant and destructive person. He doesn’t treat his wife well, and it turns out he was publicly supportive of a Bishop who moved sexual predators around diocese. To Lockwood’s credit, she discusses this, but that doesn’t make it any more understandable as a reader.

I also don’t believe I had the same reading experience as those who provided some of the blurbs – I did not weep with laughter, though I did chuckle. I’m not sure I’d call this a ‘comic memoir;’ I think it’s more a lyrical memoir with some funny moment but also some deeply disturbing ones.

I’m not disappointed I read this book – as I said, the writing is fantastic – but it just wasn’t for me.

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