ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Wednesday

1

June 2022

0

COMMENTS

Essential Managers: Managing People by Philip L. Hunsaker and Johanna Hunsaker

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Brand new managers of people

In a nutshell:
Basic, graphic-heavy guide to some things to keep in mind as a people manager.

Worth quoting:
N/A, though I did take lots of notes.

Why I chose it:
I’m new to managing people.

Review:
I have been working full time for over 20 years but have somehow managed to never really be a ‘boss.’ I’ve managed interns, and managed staff on loan from other agencies, but I’ve not hired or let people go, or really had any say in much of their work. I was promoted late last year, and just was able to hire my replacement, who I am also going to line manage. I think she deserves a good line manager, so I’m taking classes, talking to people who I think are good line managers and, of course, reading books on the subject.

The book is under 100 pages and divided into four chapters: understanding yourself, interacting with others, managing a team, and leading others. The information was helpful, and I found the section on interacting with others to be helpful. The authors clearly pull from a lot of other management writing out there, so I’m not entirely sure how much comes from them directly, but having all the ideas in one place is convenient.

Overall I think the book is absolutely fine, though I’m not thrilled with the decidedly corporate feel of it. There’s definitely some jargon, and a focus on creating ‘value’ for the company. I work in a quasi public / sort of non-profit field (higher education), and haven’t worked for the fully private sector in 18 years, but I know many people do work in corporations, so I get why that’s the assumption of the main audience. But there are some things that make me think – if this is what the authors this is good management / good work, can I trust the other things they say that are diametrically opposed to my values? An example is when thinking about a value a worker should have, they talk about working extra hours for a customer. Why is overwork the go-to example for something we should laud and emulate? How about the value of hiring enough people to do the job so no one has to work extra hours?

As I said, I did take notes, and I’m sure I’ll refer back to this at some point. It’s a fine starting point, but I’m looking forward to reading some more involved writing.

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

Tuesday

31

May 2022

0

COMMENTS

Bold Ventures by Charlotte Van den Broeck

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Two Stars

Best for:
People who are really into creative non-fiction essays.

In a nutshell:
Author van den Broeck explores architecture where the architect died under circumstances possibly related to their creation.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
Normally this would be completely up my alley.

Review:
I made it through about 40% of this book and then had to stop because life is too short to read book that just aren’t doing it for you.

I find books on architecture fascinating, and I like to learn the stories behind buildings. I thought that’s what I was in for with this book, but instead it was less about the buildings and the architects and more about the author’s life. Which is fine! But not the book I thought I was buying, and not really the book that I think it is selling.

I’d expect a book like this, looking into the facts and history around not just buildings but also the people who built them would have loads of footnotes or endnotes. A bibliography. An index. This book has none of that. I’m sure Van den Broeck did a lot of research, but I don’t know what her sources are, and I find that a bit concerning in a book that is presented as having some basis in research and fact.

The other issue is that each chapter feels a bit like when I’m looking for a recipe online and have to scroll through like 75% of the page learning about the poster’s childhood and life story before I find out how to make easy drop biscuits. I appreciate I’m getting a free service in that case, but also, I’m really not that interested in all that. Same here – I’m sure the author is an interesting person, but I’m not that interested in her life story. It’s always tangentially related to the topic, and I know that non-fiction books can have a hearty element of personal anecdotes (No Place to Go managed to weave a lot of the author’s experience into the book without it feeling like an autobiography). But in this book, it just didn’t work for me.

(Side note, whomever is the publicist for this book is CRUSHING IT. Seriously, this book is prominently displayed in like every bookstore I’ve been in the past month (and I’ve been in like five). It’s, as always, completely possible that I have totally missed the point, but I’m not so sure.)

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

Tuesday

31

May 2022

0

COMMENTS

Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
People who like a little bit of a mystery but also a character study.

In a nutshell:
Zoe and Hailey are in Berlin for a study abroad art school year. Except classes are only once or twice a month. So what should they do to fill the time? How about host a casino / house party once a week?

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
It came in the Books That Matter subscription this month.

Review:
I had a goal at the start of the year to alternate fiction and non-fiction. Didn’t really happen, and after a run of like seven non-fiction books, I decided to read this. I have an affinity for Berlin, plus this book was set in the fairly recent past (2008), so it has a bit of nostalgia associated with it (and no smart phones!).

Zoe is the protagonist here. Her best friend has just been murdered, but that isn’t really the central mystery of the book. However, it does hover over Zoe, especially since Zoe has been dating her dead best friend’s ex boyfriend. Yikes. Zoe decides to take a year in Berlin with Hailey, heiress to a Grocery Store fortune, and sort of a stranger to our main gal.

They happen to luck out with an amazing apartment in Berlin – owned by Beatrice, who is a famous mystery novel author who will be at a writing retreat in Austria for the year. Score!

But it turns out perhaps the apartment comes with a catch. When Zoe and Hailey luck into a free fancy roulette wheel and a lot of amazing vintage party clothes (it does actually make sense in the book), they decide to throw huge fantastic parties every Friday night. But at some point they wonder if maybe they are being watched?

That’s all I’ll share from the plot. The writing is great, and the characters are developed from the perspective of Zoe, in that we get her thoughts, but everyone isn’t totally one-dimensional. And the story is a bit absurd, sure, but not so out of bounds that it feels unbelievable. We see Zoe struggle with the loss of her best friend, the weirdness of her relationship with the ex Jesse, and finding her way with new roommate Hailey. She’s just twenty, in a city where she knows no one, and has really nothing to do except explore and have fun. It can be dangerous to have that much freedom without some training on how to use it safely.

Best part? The author manages to totally stick the landing. It’s got a great ending.

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

Saturday

21

May 2022

0

COMMENTS

The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone who feels a bit overwhelmed by life. Anyone who doesn’t, but still wants some suggestions for how to slow down and calm down.

In a nutshell:
Buddhist monk and professor Sunim offers reflections on ways to more deeply experience different aspects of life: rest, mindfulness, passion, relationships, love, life, the future, and spirituality.

Worth quoting:
“Unless we recognize the still point beneath the surface of our changing emotions, we will feel we are hostage to their whims.”

“When you make a mistake, simply ask yourself what you were meant to learn from it.”

Why I chose it:
Life is a lot right now. Right now? Always? Who knows. But I’d rather enjoy what I can than stress about what I cannot change, and I’m always looking for fresh (or reliable) takes on how to do that.

Review:
A book on slowing down that actively makes the reader feel calm? Sounds like a good book. And it is.

As I mentioned above, the book is split into eight sections, and each section includes a couple of short essays, and then some quotes or brief reflections / statements. They are a bit all over the place, but not in a bad way. It’s not so much a book of inspirational quotes; it’s more like a collection of somewhat related thoughts that the author wants to share with the reader. It feels almost like poetry, but it isn’t, at least not in the traditional sense.

Reading this book gave me more of a feeling than an intellectual reaction, if that makes sense. Some words rung true and are things I already incorporate into how I live my life; others were new and things I wanted to try to take on. And still others – nope. Couldn’t relate, can’t relate, or just disagree. But that’s okay. Everything is not for everyone.

The book also includes some lovely illustrations. Usually I sort of glance over such illustrations, but they are interesting and a bit fantastical and calming as anything. A cool addition to what is already a nice reading experience.

Will I all of a sudden be calmer, less stressed, more able to see the things that matter in the world? Probably not. But I think this book, and other like it, move me in that direction.

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

Sunday

15

May 2022

0

COMMENTS

No Place to Go by Lezlie Lowe

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

Four Stars

Best for:
People with an interest in public infrastructure, but also people interested in how our public choices impact who can enjoy being out in public.

In a nutshell:
Author Lowe explores the problems with the (lack of) public toilets across many countries.

Worth quoting:
“I grew up being socialized to expect a line for the bathroom. I spent decades so desensitized to the indignity that I never questioned it.”

Quoting someone interviewed for the book: “Public bathrooms are part of that infrastructure, the same way roads and other things are. And if you can’t even get that right, how can we go further?”

Why I chose it:
I always have to pee.

Review:
No, seriously, I always have to pee. It’s not a medical issue – I just am often in search of a toilet. When the first round of lockdown restrictions were lifted in England, I was so excited to go for walks further than a few blocks near my house, but we were definitely limited in maybe 30 minutes out, because within an hour (maybe 90 minutes), I would need a toilet, and London doesn’t have loads of public toilets. When I fly, I get an aisle seat. And before I leave the house to do ANYTHING, I always use the loo.

For Lowe, the recognition that public toilets are often a bit of a shit show came when she had young children and had to navigate staircases down into dirty, often locked public bathrooms in parks. And for many people with no mobility or other challenges that can make using the toilet more than a simple affair, having children is when they start to realize that there are not a lot of places where literally anyone can go to relieve themselves. In those moment of realization, she decided to explore public provision of toilets.

But she doesn’t just think about how people with children are impacted. She takes on how this affects people experiencing homelessness – loads of NIMBY types get super angry about people peeing and taking a shit in the street, but if there aren’t any toilets, where on earth do you expect them to go? Lowe also explores accessibility, and how the needs for some folks are going to be different than the needs of others. She looks at how the compromises city planners make when putting in the rare public toilet make those toilets even worse (think about the pretty gross stainless steel, seat-less wonders found in many parks). And thankfully she also looks at how the strict division of gender in toileting harms trans people – along with people who care for others of another gender who need to use the toilet.

On thing that she mentioned that really stuck out to me was how awful it as that so many people who are working don’t have access to toilets during their shifts. Yes, we’ve heard of the Amazon delivery drivers peeing into bottles because they don’t have time to stop. But even if they had the time – where are they going to pee? Where are taxi drivers and other ‘gig’ economy workers who don’t have offices going to relieve themselves? They’re also peeing into bottles. And as Lowe says: “Just imagine any of these solutions applying to the average office worker: ‘Sorry, Mildred, you can’t leave your cubicle today. Just toss your urine out the window. Hope you aren’t on your period. Ta ta.’”

It is absurd that society seems to just be … okay with our governments not providing space for everyone to do one of the most basic of human functions. Not everyone can afford to buy a muffin every time they need to take a shit. Not everyone feels comfortable sneaking into a pub on a Saturday evening when the patrons have been drinking all day. We expect our governments to provide services that allow us to live in the world – things like roads that take us into the city center. We should also expect them to provide the services that allow us to actually make use of the city center once we get there.

Lowe approaches this topic from so many different directions that it could have been a mess, but instead, it is well-written, well-edited, and fun to read.

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

Tuesday

3

May 2022

0

COMMENTS

Ten Steps to Nanette by Hannah Gasby

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People who like memoirs, especially ones that go in unexpected places.

In a nutshell:
Comedian Hannah Gadsby tells of her life growing up in Tasmania, her career in comedy, and how she built her one-of-a-kind show Nanette.

Worth quoting:
“The lies of a vulnerable minority should never have been put into the hands of the majority in a media landscape that is all too happy to be powered by the fumes of a toxic debate.”

“I find joy in my life where I once couldn’t because I was too busy trying to do the ‘right’ thing instead of checking in with my own needs first.”

Why I chose it:
I’m a fan of Gadsby’s comedy, and the way she constructs a show.

Review:
In this memoir, Gadsby shares so much of her life, and she does so in an interesting way. I read a LOT of memoirs, and this is one that took me a bit by surprise. It shouldn’t have, but it did. Like much of her comedy, Gadsby’s book is clever, intelligent, unique and unexpected.

The entire section about the 1990s is really well done, with each year discussed in a clever way highlighting things that happened that year in Australia and worldwide, as well as in her life. As someone completely unfamiliar with Australian politics, I appreciated hearing her take on things, and how the debate over the right for gay people to live their lives without prosecution, and then the right for people to marry who they loved, and how that deeply impacted her as a queer person.

She shares her trauma, but it isn’t traumatic, if that makes sense. She doesn’t provide detail unless she needs to. As always, she is careful with her words and edits where its needed.

I started the book and read the first couple of chapters but then put it down for a month. It’s a long book, and while its so well-written, it wasn’t an easy read. Then yesterday, which was a holiday here in the UK, I decided to finish it. I read basically all day, and I finished it, and I think that was the best way to take it in. All in one or two sittings. Some books lend themselves easily to chapter by chapter; I think this one is best when the reader can really dive into Gadsby’s story.

Something to note, which again, shouldn’t be a surprise. My partner was sitting next to me basically the entire time I was reading the book, and when I finished, he commented that I didn’t laugh at all while reading it. And it is true that I didn’t laugh out loud because it’s not a funny memoir. There are parts where I chuckled inside – I mean, Gadsby is brilliant, and that translates well to the page – but this is not a funny book. It is a serious memoir that takes on serious topics.

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

Sunday

1

May 2022

0

COMMENTS

Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Readers interested in climate change, abandonment, natural disasters, and nature.

In a nutshell:
Author Flyn explores a variety of places across the world where humans have left a space – either because of their own damage, or natural disaster, or change in the way of living – and looks at how the earth renews itself, sometimes coming back stronger than before.

Worth quoting:
“We weed out plants well suited to the ground and conditions, and insist on propping up expensive, ill-suited, ornamental ones. Better, perhaps, to resist the impulse. Step back.”

“In an urban environment, entering an abandoned space is the nearest thing we have to stepping off the map.”

Why I chose it:
I find abandoned and/or remote areas to be really interesting. I’ve always lived in either dense suburbs (growing up) or major cities, so the idea of just … leaving an area to be reclaimed by the earth is hard to imagine. My partner spotted this book in a shop and I knew I would enjoy it.

Review:
What if you had to up and leave your home because of a volcano? Or a meltdown at a nuclear power plant? Or the creation of a buffer zone between warring nations? What if your home was slowly degraded, due to industry leaving it, or due to the poisoning of the area by the industry that you relied on for income? Or maybe the way of life you and your family grew up with changed, and you had to abandon your home on a tiny island?

Flyn explores all of these scenarios – and more – in her interesting and descriptive book. In all, she looks at a dozen different areas where humans once were. In a few, humans are still there, adjusting to a new way of living, but in most, people have had to leave, relinquishing the land to flora and fauna, who in many cases have made amazing and unexpected comebacks.

In one chapter, she looks at Ukraine and Chernobyl, which obviously retains a lot of radiation but not enough to necessarily kill many of the plants and animals that remain. In another, she explores a tiny island in Scotland, where the last family left nearly 50 years ago. A couple of buildings remain, but what’s most interesting are the many generations of domestic cattle that have slowly been returning to their wild roots.

As I have lived in densely populated areas my whole life (and generally choose that because I like, for example, being able to walk to the grocery store, not need a car, and have access to public transit), I find any large spaces no longer touched by humans to be fascinating. I picture the people who lived there, and then think how quickly it can change, sometimes through the actions of those very people, but sometimes completely outside their control. Especially in the chapters discussing post-war landscapes, I couldn’t help but think of the current conflicts going on around the world, and what is happening to the people being forced out, and what will happen to the places they once lived.

If we did 1/2 stars, I’d probably give it 3.5, but the topic and the way Flyn covers it caused me to round it up. My hesitation is that the writing is a bit flowery, in that the descriptions of the wildlife and vegetation are EXTREMELY detailed, to the point that for someone like me, who isn’t really knowledgeable of that topic, it all starts to blur together. I think some editing might have been beneficial here. But really that’s my only criticism.

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

Saturday

23

April 2022

0

COMMENTS

The Practice of Not Thinking by Ryunosuke Koike

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Anyone looking for a book on mindful living that isn’t primarily about meditating a few times a week.

In a nutshell:
Former Buddhist monk Koike shares his thoughts on ways we can stop thinking (or, I’d argue, stop overthinking, as his suggestions do require a fair bit of though) and ultimately live more peacefully.

Worth quoting:
“[B]egin by being considerate, thinking of our listener, so we don’t cause unnecessary stimulation or stress for the other person.”

“If we’re truly sorry about something, we should think about the best way to ease the burden on the other person rather than merely apologizing or making an excuse for our own comfort.”

Why I chose it:
It caught my eye in a bookstore. Also, my life has recently been a bit stressful, and I was looking for something other than ‘meditate more’ in terms of mindful living.

Review:
CN: Fatphobia

I am ambivalent about this book. There are some aspects of it that I think are insightful, interesting, and helpful; there are some aspects that I find a bit naive and possibly even detrimental if followed. In some of those instances I believe I understand what Koike is getting at, but I’m not sure he’s portraying a very realistic approach to living.

But first, the good. The book opens strongly, laying out what Koike sees as ‘thinking disease.’ He pulls in concepts of Buddhism and suggests that many of the ways we act in life can be seen through the prisms of desire, anger, and uncertainty, and we should seek to limit our experience of these. Throughout the book he does connect many concepts that I might not have associated with one of those three emotions to them, and it’s an interesting concept

The main approach for Koike is is that we must develope our senses, defined as speaking, listening, seeing, reading and writing, eating, discarding, touching, and nurturing. I found the speaking and listing sections to offer the most practical insight. The other sections, while not necessarily bad, just didn’t speak to me as much.

There were parts, however, that did frustrate me. In the writing section he says we shouldn’t ever write anything negative, and only write about things we’ve enjoyed (lol sorry but what). This is an example of how at times he seems so dedicated to the idea of peace that he sees no value in examining or interrogating things that might not be awesome. The section on eating also somehow ended up being an icky little chapter on dieting, and in the section where he discusses relationships (‘nurturing’), the example he uses of a discussion to have is about a wife being upset that her husband is fat. Amazing how fear of fatness works its way into everything, even a philosophy book on mindfulness.

Another part that I found a bit naive was the way he speaks about money, and people wanting to have some. He definitely is talking about the dangers of hoarding money, and references billionaires, but also he seems to ignore the idea that one might need to save some money so one can pay for one’s bills and housing.

As I said up top, there are parts of this I like. I started reading it during the end of my football (soccer) season, and as a goal keeper it can be hard at times to maintain focus when so much action is happening at the other end of the pitch. Some of the tips in here helped me to focus more on the match and my movements in it. I’m also actively working on incorporating some of what he shared in the speaking and listening sections. But I’m not sure I could fully recommend this to others.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Despite the middling rating, I probably will keep it.

 

Monday

11

April 2022

0

COMMENTS

The Good University by Raewyn Connell

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone who works in higher education, or anyone who has or plans to attend higher education, or anyone who lives in a society with higher education in it.

In a nutshell:
Author Connell explores what universities do, how that has changed, and why that is not great.

Worth quoting:
“It is vital to recognize that universities and schools themselves are highly active in making inequalities.”

“Universities themselves have become increasingly complicit with market ideology.”

Why I chose it:
I work in higher education administration in the UK.

Review:
For the last few years I have worked in higher education administration. I am what you would call ‘professional services staff,’ which means I’m not an academic, and I don’t teach anything. Instead, I do some of the background work that keeps the university going. I’m not as critical as security staff or cleaners, but I help keep things running smoothly for the staff who do things like manage admissions, or provide counselling and mental health support to students.

I have also gone on strike twice for a total of four days in the last five weeks. So things aren’t great.

My line manager is fantastic, but I withdrew my labor in solidarity with colleagues who are facing stress, overwork, low wages, and stress (so important I said it twice). One the first day I went out on strike, I started reading this book, because I wanted to be reminded of what a good university could be.

This book is extremely well-organized and well-researched. Connell starts with reminding us of what the research aspect of a university looks like – who does it, why it is done, and how it contributes to knowledge. She also looks at a larger question about what is truth – is it truth once it is a peer-reviewed journal? What if that journal is part of a system that essentially forces researchers to buy access to research, and looks at research through a very western lens? She then looks at learning and teaching, the other big component most of us think about when we think about universities.

She then gets into some areas that maybe don’t get as much coverage, like the workers themselves, and not just the academics, but the people who work in the cafe, or maintain the buildings, or support the students in other ways.

The areas of the book that stuck with me most were the chapters on privilege, and how universities are often complicit in just reproducing the exclusivity of the world (think Harvard, sure, but really any university that is striving to be at the top of the league tables or high up in the US News & World Report rankings); and the chapter on the university business. The latter especially hit close to home, as I have a visceral reaction to students being referred to as ‘customers,’ and I feel like that happens where I work. I know that they usually only mean it as a sort of best phrase to use when they want to talk about ‘customer service,’ but still. It’s icky to me to treat a university as a corporation or business. I also hear loads of discussion about KPIs and metrics and yes, I understand that its good to know how your team is doing in terms of, say, response times to student queries, but at times it all feels much closer to working in a company than in a public service organization.

Throughout the book Connell clearly discusses what she sees as problems with the current system, and really the only place the book doesn’t quite live up to my hopes is in the last chapter. The penultimate chapter is great, where she provides loads of examples of historic universities (and some contemporary ones) doing things genuinely differently and interestingly. But the final chapter, where I’d love to see some concrete steps and suggestions, isn’t as fully formed as I’d like. But that doesn’t leave me disappointed; it just is motivating me to think more deeply about what I’d like to see where I work, and what collectively we should expect from our institutes of higher learning.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Recommend to all my work colleagues. I’d keep a copy at my desk but we hot desk now. I hate that.

Sunday

3

April 2022

0

COMMENTS

Happy Fat by Sofie Hagen

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone who has been exposed to fatphobia (e.g. all of us) and who wants to work on unlearning it, via book with a lot of heart but also a lot of humor.

In a nutshell:
Comedian Sofie Hagen is a fat woman working to help other fat people to love themselves while also targeting the reasons why fat people might not love themselves: the gross fat bigotry that is evident pretty much everywhere one looks.

Worth quoting:
There are a lot, but because I listened to the audio book while out and about I didn’t write them down. One of the downsides of audio non-fiction for me.

Why I chose it:
I have an Audible UK subscription and this was one of the suggestions.

Review:
I love a humorous memoir. It’s one of my favorite genres of books, but I also can find it a bit challenging to review. Especially this one, which is mixed in with a lot more activism and education than the typical memoir. But let’s give it a go!

Sofie Hagen is a comedian, and she is fat. And she has learned to love herself in a world that tells people that there’s something wrong with being fat. However, as others in fat activism spaces have also pointed out, yes, loving one’s self is good, but the problem is with society, not individuals. Loving one’s self does not make airplane seats accommodating, or clothing options magically appears in physical stores. Accepting and appreciating one’s size does not stop other people from being assholes to you.

There is so much to like in this book, but one part I especially enjoyed were her interviews with other fat activists with different perspectives from her own. She interviews fat Black people, disabled fat people, and others, and she has them record their own part of the interview, so we get to hear their voices. That’s pretty cool.

I found myself laughing out loud many times, but was also drawn into Hagen’s overall personality and the joy that comes through as she tells her story. I could see myself listening to this again, because I think there’s a lot here that I want to properly take in and think about.

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