ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Sunday

16

June 2024

0

COMMENTS

Tell Me Something About Buddhism by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

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Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone curious about Buddhism and looking for some thoughts from someone who came to the practice a bit later in life.

In a nutshell:
Manuel, a priest in the Zen tradition and a Black woman from the US raised in the Christian church, shares short but thoughtful responses to common questions about Buddhism.

Worth quoting:
Shared a quote from Eihei Dogen: “If you see death as something over there, then you are viewing your life from outside of it.”

Why I chose it:
I am in fact a curious beginner!

Review:
I learned about this book when it was mentioned in a daily newsletter I get related to Buddhism. It seems to be mostly out of print, so it took awhile for it to arrive, but I am happy to sought it out, because it is a lovely beginner book. It’s just over 100 pages long, and easy enough to read in little chunks if one doesn’t have the time to just sit and read it all at once.

The book covers basics of Buddhism that I’ve read about in other books, such as the Eightfold path. But it also talks about things people may have heard in passing about Buddhism that they aren’t sure about.

I think something that makes this book especially interesting is the perspective that Manuel brings, as a Black woman from the US. Many books that I’ve read are (understandably) written by great wise Buddhists from eastern nations such Thich Nhat Hanh, and I obviously their perspectives are important. But Manuel speaks specifically about coming to Buddhism from another spiritual practice (the Christian church), and about being a Black woman in spaces where she was often the only Black person there. She speaks specifically about a multicultural community of practice, and how to navigate the fact that just because you have a bunch of folks following the path of Buddha in one place doesn’t mean you want have conflict.

I think what stuck out to me the most is that if I am going to continue this exploration, I do need to find a community and a teacher, because Buddhism isn’t about reading things in books, it’s about experiencing things myself.

What’s next for this book:
Keep and refer back to.

Wednesday

12

June 2024

0

COMMENTS

Will I Ever Have Sex Again? by Sofie Hagen

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Three Stars

Best for:
Anyone who is familiar with Hagen’s work; anyone who is themselves pondering the quality of their sex life.

In a nutshell:
Author Hagen explores their history of gender identity and sexuality against the backdrop of not having had sex in many years.

Worth quoting:
I listened to Hagen read the book and know that I found a few lines noteworthy but didn’t end up writing any down.

Why I chose it:
I enjoyed Hagen’s first book Happy Fat and wanted to support their next one.

Review:
What do you know about sex? Like, good sex? If you are a straight person, do you know anything beyond the sort of standard expectations we see in media? How do you view sex and sexuality? How do you view yourself in sexual situations? How do you relate to others sexually?

Hagen (who is non-binary and prefers they/them pronouns) talks through these topics in various ways in their book where they explore why they haven’t had sex in years. It’s not a book about chosen celibacy – they want to have sex. But as they explore their own gender identity and sexuality, they discover that maybe they have some things to work through themselves.

And they spend the book asking questions of experts and it is fascinating to read. They talk to a porn actor, a flirtologist, and put out a call for comment from people that resulted in 1800 responses. They learn to think about what they actually want in a sexual partner, and what those experiences should be like – the safety, the consideration.

The book also spends time looking into Hagen’s past relationships, including a couple that are not great emotionally, which people might find helpful as they think about what they want and need and expect in relationships.

This is an interesting read. I’m not quite sure what I expected but it probably wasn’t this. That isn’t to say it’s bad at all – just different.

What’s next for this book:
Might recommend it to other folks.

Sunday

2

June 2024

0

COMMENTS

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

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Four Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoy contemplative stories.

In a nutshell:
The main character of this book is a novelist whose name we never learn. She lives alone in a world where anything can disappear. But not for everyone.

Worth quoting:
The writing is the book is lovely, but I didn’t find myself underlining anything specific.

Why I chose it:
This was a birthday gift from friends.

Review:
I’m feeling a bit melancholy after reading this book, but I’m not sad, and I’m not disappointed that I read it. I love that not every book is meant to leave the reader feeling happy.

In the world of this book, things disappear. And not in a ‘oh no, Bob lost his laptop’ kind of way. Categories of items just disappear. First they start to disappear from memory, and then everyone takes what they have left of the items and disposes of them, never to be seen again. So, for example, apples. One day, people have apples, and apple trees, applesauce. But then apples disappear, and so all remaining apples just rot away, and people forget the word and what it represented. If they come across, say, an image of an apple, it will look like nothing they’ve seen before; just an abstract object.

But not everyone forgets, and that’s where the Memory Police come in. Their job is to interrogate anyone who appears to not be able to forget things that have disappeared, and if they do retain memories, they themselves are removed from the town.

The main character is a novelist, and the novel she is writing is interspersed throughout the book. Her mother was someone who could remember, and was taken away years ago. She hid items that had disappeared all over the house, showing them to the novelist when she was a child, even though the novelist had no memory and no point of reference to it. Her editor is also someone who can remember, and she is determined to protect him from the memory police. I think only one person in the book has a name that is shared with the reader; everyone else is known by their job, or perhaps an initial, or their demographics – her best friend is the old man.

What stands out most for me is how people can come to adjust to things that from the outside are just unacceptable. How, as more and more things disappear, the people of the town don’t question things (likely for fear of a visit from the Memory Police), and instead figure out ways to adapt and continue living their lives. Some might call it resilience, but it also seems like in this town people are just living with the ongoing drone of trauma and trying to make the best of it. It seems clear that these disappearances are not happening outside of the island, but we don’t hear of many people making attempts to escape. They seem to have accepted their fate, for the most part, and are just interested in living the lives they can.

What’s next for this book:
Keep, recommend to others.

Sunday

19

May 2024

0

COMMENTS

High Conflict by Amanda Ripley

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Three Stars

Best for:
Anyone interested in narratives around people making connections across seemingly large divides.

In a nutshell:
Journalist Ripley explores the concept of ‘high conflict’ through the stories of a few different individuals and groups.

Worth quoting:
“The challenge of our time is to mobilize great masses of people to make change without dehumanizing one another.”

“Hatred assumes the enemy is immutable. If the enemy will always be evil, there is no reason to ever consider any creative solutions to the conflict.”

Why I chose it:
Way back in autumn of last year, when I bought this book, I was trying to figure out better ways to deal with interpersonal conflict.

Review:
It took me a long while to get into this book. I started it back in December 2023, but only over the last couple of weeks have I really gotten into it, probably reading about 2/3 of it in that time. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, but I had to meet it where it is, because I don’t think it’s quite what I was looking for. I thought it would be a bit more prescriptive about managing and working through conflict. And while there are tips, and a couple of appendices, it’s more like a series of long-form essays exploring different types of conflicts. And looking at it that way, it’s a decent book, though I do disagree with some point, or at least some of the characterizations the author makes.

Ripley talks about Gary, who lives in a tiny, well-off community in the San Francisco Bay Area, and how his attempts to make change in the volunteer board governing the town deepened conflict within. She interviews Curtis, a former gang member who has managed to leave that life. She talks to Sandra, a former member of FARC in Colombia who decided to reintegrate into society. And she looks at a synagogue in New York that participated in an exchange with corrections officer in Michigan in an attempt to learn more about each other.

The chapters that looked at Curtis’s life I found to be quite interesting, because they look at what it takes for someone to make individual changes, and the support that is needed. Both Curtis and Sandra were involved in serious conflicts – gang wars, and paramilitary battles. And both on some level had to make the individual choice to leave, but they were only able to stay out because of family, community, and financial (possibly governmental) support.

The section with Gary was mostly interesting because Gary found himself deeply mired in conflict but was himself a conflict mediator by trade. Irony! But also a good example of how one can be absolutely knowledgeable about how to help others, but not take their own advice, because they convince themselves that they are right.

I think the struggle I have with this book is that I still am not quite sure how to apply this when the stakes are super high AND many people are involved AND there are potentially ‘right’ answers. And it’s interesting to read this book that was published a few years ago, because the conflict in Israel and Palestine features. Obviously the past seven months have brought this into stark view for many more people that before, and it can be deeply challenging to have conversations about this when the stakes are so high. From my perspective, I just have such a hard time wrapping my head around anyone who doesn’t see what Israel is doing to the Palestinian people as deeply immoral. And there are people who feel even more strongly about that than I do, as evidenced by encampments at universities and direct action against weapons manufacturers. But where is the solution if people are not willing to have the conversations that Ripley recommends? Like, it seems odd for people to have to plead their humanity? And I am sure there are people who feel basically completely opposite to me who cannot wrap their head around my perspective. But neither of us are decisions makers – and they aren’t talking to each other.

I can see it working for lower stakes issues, like choosing a provider for a contractor, or even things that have a wider impact, like tax rates. But for the really ‘high conflict’ issues, if the decision makers, or the people who can make the changes, are not willing to have conversations with people who have different views, what options are left?

Basically, even though Ripley uses some very large geopolitical examples in the book, I see her arguments making much more sense and being more effecting at the micro level. And generally speaking, that probably will work for me in most instances. But at the macro level? How can it work if folks won’t try it?

What’s next for this book:
I’ll probably hold onto it as it has some appendices that might prove useful in the future.

Tuesday

7

May 2024

0

COMMENTS

The Shadow Cabinet by Juno Dawson

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Three Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoyed the first book in the series, Her Majesty’s Royal Coven.

In a nutshell:
Taking place immediately after the end of the first book, we find a witch who has taken over her sister’s body and a lot of men who want to cause a lot of harm to women.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
I enjoyed the first in the series.

Review:
Without spoiling the book, I appreciate that the first one had a theme that was related to trans women, and this one was focused more on how men treat women. Obviously this is a world that has magic in it so it’s fantastical (though it takes place in current day UK and not some imaginary world), but the issues around the fear men have of powerful women, and their desire to exert dominance over women are extremely relevant.

(While reading it I was reminded of the discussion taking place on TikTok right now about whether women would rather be trapped in the woods with a man or a bear.)

I rated it a bit lower than the previous book because there is a LOT going on, and at times was a bit challenging to follow exactly what was happening. There are also some great unexpected twists, but that’s a separate issue. I think author Dawson knows the story she wants to tell, and has a lot of ideas that will probably all come together, but with so many different storylines and perspectives I’m still not entirely sure exactly what happened in a couple of areas. I suppose that’s not surprising for a book in the middle of a series – lots of place setting for what is to come next.

Overall, I think this is the type of fantasy book I can get into – there’s some world building but not so much that I have to draw my own map and create a glossary to understand what it happening. It’s largely based in a world I understand and know, so I can focus on the plot and the stories. I know some folks prefer fantasy that is set in a wholly fictional realm, so if that’s your preference, this isn’t going to be for you.

To note: I read a physical copy of the first book in the series, and chose the audio book for his one when I learned that it was read by Nicola Coughlan (over Derry Girls and Bridgerton fame). She does a fantastic job of nailing loads of different accents, and in general is a great narrator.

What’s next for this book:
I’ll definitely read the final book in the series when it’s released.

Wednesday

17

April 2024

0

COMMENTS

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

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Four stars

Best for:
Anyone interested in a straightforward exploration of a woman’s life under patriarchy. In this case, the patriarchy women experience in Korea.

In a nutshell:
Kim Jiyoung’s story, from birth through motherhood, and all the times her being a girl / woman has been held against her.

Worth quoting:
“It felt more like harassment or violence than pranks, and there was nothing she could do about it.”

“It wasn’t that she didn’t have time – she didn’t have room in her head for other thoughts.”

“The world had changed a great deal, but the little rules, contracts and customs had not, which meant the world hadn’t actually changed at all.”

Why I chose it:
I’d heard about the 4B movement recently, and this book (and the film it was eventually made into) is referenced as influencing it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4B_movement

Review:
On the surface this is a simple book. It’s a totally straightforward telling of one woman’s story, from birth through primary school, university, work and marriage.

From being a disappointment to her parents purely because she was a girl, to working to put her younger brother through university before she was able to go, to trying to find a job, to getting married and having a child. And all the ways that society puts the boys and men in her life first, both figuratively and, in the case of the order of who gets served lunch in primary school, literally.

But this is also a clever book – it takes a story that could be the story of so many women and makes it personal. It doesn’t have flowery writing, or long scenes of dialog. But it has emotion – and a lot of it. I had so many feelings while reading it. I often wrote in the margins such deep words as ‘gross’ and ‘what the fuck.’

Author Cho delivers an unexpected (to me, as I wasn’t familiar with the book or film at all) gut punch in the last few pages that still has me thinking a day after finishing the book. It’s an interesting framing that drives home all the pages that came before it.

What’s next for this book:
Recommending it to others.

Thursday

11

April 2024

0

COMMENTS

The Price of Life by Jenny Klee

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4 Stars

Best for:
Those interested in exploring not just the philosophical questions about ‘value,’ ‘worth,’ and ‘price,’ but those contemplating how to – and if we should – put a price on a life.

In a nutshell:
Journalist Kleeman investigates the different prices we put on lives, from hiring a hit man to covering medications to paying ransom to bomber jets.

Worth quoting:
“It is possible to not be a slave but still be exploited: this £23 pedicure has taken seventy-five minutes. Does £23 adequately cover her time, and the manager’s time, plus the materials, the London rent, the energy bills?”

“This is the problem with removing emotion and duty from giving: it can be hijacked by amoral sociopaths who believe the ends justify the means.”

Why I chose it:
Was just browsing at a bookstore and it jumped out at me. A friend and I had just been talking about discussions we’d had during university about the ‘value’ of life and different ways costs are assigned, so it seemed like a good fit.

Review:
This topic has fascinated me since I started studying philosophy years ago (oooof, that was well over a decade ago now. Yikes). And this is an excellent overview of some of the more interesting and challenging ideas related to how we value human life, and the price we put on it.

Some of the chapters are interesting from a sort of ‘oh that’s wild’ perspective – finding out how much people pay to have someone they know murdered, or how the price for a hostage is worked out. But other chapters I found to be interesting and thought provoking for different reasons. The chapter on the F-35 bomber, and the absurd costs associated with war, was especially relevant considering those bombers are currently destroying homes and killing civilians in Gaza.

There were two different chapters that looked specifically at health care issues. One covered a concept I studied a bit previously – QALYs also know as quality-adjusted life years, which the UK uses to determine whether to cover the cost of certain medical treatments. There are limited resources, and other than a lottery, how can one figure out how to distribute those resources without something that can be applied to every equitably? Of course, the question is … is it equitable?

The other focused on the cost of the COVID lockdowns, and whether the lives saved at the time were worth the costs to lives in other ways (e.g. poverty, domestic violence) when the economy was shut. I found that chapter challenging in some ways, because I do still think that the lockdowns made sense. But this was the only chapter where I felt that the author left something out of the equation – the cost not just of dying of COVID, but of long COVID. She only explored the death rates, and didn’t discuss the mass disabling event that COVID is, and how many people will not be able to live the lives they would have otherwise if they hadn’t been infected It’s not the same as a death, but it’s not nothing.

And then there are the chapters that look at things like slavery and exploitation – and the willingness so many of us have to overlook why the things we like to use might be cheaper than the true cost, and what that means for the people providing those goods and services. Plus the chapter that looks at charity, and the cold calculations some use to determine whether it makes sense to fund certain charitable endeavors.

If the topic sounds interesting to you, I think you’ll enjoy this book. And even if these aren’t things you’ve ever thought of, I think you might still enjoy this book.

What’s next for this book:
Going on the shelf and recommending to others.

Saturday

30

March 2024

0

COMMENTS

Run by Rachel Laidler and Elspeth Beidas

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Five Stars

Best for:
People who like to travel to their run, or who are looking for some inspiration.

In a nutshell:
One hundred runs and trails of varying lengths, spread across every continent (yes, even that one).

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
It was a birthday gift.

Review:
I’ve been running for about 15 years now. In those years I’ve run 15 half marathons, and some of the best have been ones I’ve traveled for. There was one in the Black Country near Birmingham, England. That one was run along the canals, and you were released in sets of 2-4 people every few minutes. There was basically no one else around, and the water stations were kind people who live on canal boats and set up little tables along the trail.

Another one was the Paris half marathon. I was in grad school and a friend and I went together. It was HUGE – like 30,000 runners. And it was super cool to run through the streets of Paris, all shut down. That was also the race where they had chips you had to return, and the place where they had folks cutting them off was WAY too close to the finish line, so after about 2 hours there was a huge back-up of people trying to cross. Whoops.

Basically, traveling to run is a cool way to see another city or country. Ideally I time it correctly and arrive a couple of days before the run, enjoy a little job the day before, run the race, then have some time after to really enjoy and explore the place.

The book is gorgeous on its own, full of color photos of the race locations. It is laid out in six sections (one for each continental area, with the Antarctica race included with South America). Each race section includes a sparkline of the elevation, the distance, elevation, and terrain. There’s a narrative about the race, and details of how and when to sign up.

Many of the races in the book are longer than I’m happy running – I may be done with half marathons, and I’m definitely not about to train for a marathon or an ultra marathon (meanwhile my running coach is currently training for like a 90km race in the alps and I’m just like … sure). But there are some races that have a 10k associated with them, so I’m looking at those. It’s fun to make plans, even if I don’t make it to a lot of them. Always fun to set some goals.

What’s next for this book:
Keeping it and using it to plan some trips!

Monday

25

March 2024

0

COMMENTS

Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents by Lindsay C Gibson, Psy D

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Four Stars

Best for:
I mean, as it says on the tin, right? Also maybe if you’re considering becoming a parent? Might be good to consider checking it out.

In a nutshell:
Author Gibson explores the different types of emotionally immature parents, the impact that can have on their children as children and as adults, and offers ways of continuing on in relationship with such parents without further harming oneself.

Worth quoting:
“Emotionally immature parents can do a good job of taking care of their children’s physical and material needs. In a world of food, shelter, and education, these parents may be able to provide everything that’s needed. In terms of things that are physical, tangible, or activity related, many of these parents make sure their children get every advantage they can afford. But when it comes to emotional matters, they can be oblivious to their children’s needs.”

“Emotionally immature people, on the other hand, often take pride in their lack of [emotional work]. They rationalize their impulsive and insensitive responses with excuses like ‘I’m just saying what I think’ or ‘I can’t change who I am.’”

Why I chose it:
Well, I am an adult child. Am I an adult child of one or more emotionally immature parents? My therapist would probably say yes…

Review:
I can’t really review this in as much detail as I would like without revealing more about myself than I feel comfortable doing. But what I will say is that after spending some time in therapy last year, the concept of emotionally immature parents came onto my radar. I’m not going to specify which parents this might apply to; I will, however, share that I found this book to be full of highly relevant information that helped me to both better understand myself and help me sort out new approaches to interacting with the parents in the future.

The book is laid out quite well, with clearly defined and contained chapters. Gibson starts by exploring the impact of emotional immature parents on their adult children’s lives, then jumps into helping the reader sort out what an emotionally immature parent it. There’s a checklist / quiz here that I found helpful and eye-opening.

Gibson theorizes that there are four types of emotionally immature parents, and explores how they differ. There are three chapters in the middle that I found a bit less helpful than the others, partially because I think I already explored the ideas there in other ways, but these sections are probably quite helpful to most folks: they’re about different ways us as adult children react to being raised by emotionally immature parents. The final chapters are full of tips and tools for managing the relationship with an emotionally immature parent, which is really what I was in it for, and what I am looking forward to trying out in the future.

I think a lot of folks in my generation (Xennial) and younger are taking the time to explore and improve their emotional lives, and part of that work involves looking at their relationships, including with their parents. While this book might not be what my peers would reach for initially (it’s not marketed in a clever pop non-fiction way), I do think it’s worth checking out.

What’s next for this book:
On my shelf and to be referred to regularly I’d imagine.

Monday

11

March 2024

0

COMMENTS

Keanu Reeves is not in Love with You by Becky Holmes

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4 Stars

Best for:
Anyone interested in the world of romance fraud, as well as anyone who likes a lot of humour in their non-fiction books. Oooh, also anyone who gets some satisfaction out of people who dick around with said fraudsters.

In a nutshell:
Author Holmes gets a lot of clearly fake requests on social media, and so decides to play along, wasting the time of fraudsters while also investigating what makes them tick – and how anyone can be victimized by them.

Worth quoting:
“It always annoys me when people just write off the victims of romance fraud as being stupid. I’ve interviewed between thirty and forty victims, and not a single one was stupid…”

“…what I also find interesting is the difference in language used when talking about male and female victims of scamming … the blame shifts and seems to land squarely on the woman, whether she is the scammed or the scammer.”

“We need to stop referring to people as ‘falling for’ a scam. We don’t say someone ‘fell for a burglary’ or ‘fell for an assault.’ Romance fraud is not something that people ‘fall for’; it is something that happens to them.”

Why I chose it:
I mean it’s a great title. I too was once messaged by Keanu Reeves on Instagram. Sadly, nothing came of it.

Review:
What an interesting and – despite the serious subject matter – funny book.

Author Holmes decides to join various social media platforms, and, like many women, is immediately bombarded with messages from men of … dubious origin. But instead of blocking and ignoring, she decides to engage with them, wasting their time (and hopefully tying up at least some of the time they could be using to scam others) in all manner of ridiculous texts and photo exchanges.

The book definitely includes discussion about people pretending to be celebrities as the title suggests, but thats just the focus of one chapter. It’s a much broader look at online romance fraud, and Holmes does a great job making the subject accessible and really digging deep into how it can happen, but sharing stories of people who have been scammed. She also explores some of the biggest groups of scammers – spending a lot of time on Yahoo Boys, which was a group I’d never heard of, and which I was concerned might be a bit sensationalized as they are located in Nigeria (and lots of people have some racist assumptions about Nigerians and scams), but they are indeed a real thing.

Much of the book includes excerpts of Holmes’s interactions with scammers, which are both hilarious to read and also deeply disturbing, as one can see how these scammers really try to ingratiate themselves into the lives of the people who they fleece. It’s distressing and it really sucks for those who are victimized by them.

One area Holmes really focuses on – and which I call out in the quote I share above – is how judgmental people are when it comes to romance fraud. Frankly I hate that for people – much like I hate pranks. I realize they come from very different places, but in the end the joke (or crime) is ‘ha ha, you believe in people, you idiot.’ Of course it is easy to see red flags in hindsight, or when one is in a totally calm, stable, non-traumatic point in their life. But people aren’t always in the perfect place – sometimes people are sad, or lonely, or have just come out of an abusive relationships. And it sucks that people are not only harmed by the people stealing their money and tricking them into thinking they are in love, but also by their friends, family, and society with their judgment.

She also spends time looking at how little support there is for the victims of this fraud. There is ‘Action Fraud,’ which is where the police refer people in the UK (where the author lives), but they sound both under-resourced and ineffective. Police don’t investigate, banks don’t really care, and family members judge. It stinks.

Overall, I think this is a good book for anyone (including those who thing they are ‘too smart’ to ‘fall for’ any such scams), both because it is well written but also because I learned quite a few things and it helped me remind myself about the need for empathy for people whose main ‘fault’ is trusting others.

What’s next for this book:
Keep, maybe pick up a copy for friends who might find this interesting.