ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Sunday

14

August 2022

0

COMMENTS

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Four Stars

Best for:
Those who like deep, emotional, thoughtful novels that are more character driven than plot-driven.

In a nutshell:
Klara is an AF waiting to be chosen by a child.

Why I chose it:
Never Let Me Go remains one of my absolute favorite novels. I saw all the great reviews this one was getting and decided to pick it up.

Review:
It’s hard to speak about specifics in this book without spoiling it, so … I think I’m going to spoil it. Before the spoilers begin though, I can say that I enjoyed this book, I thought it was interesting and raised some amazing questions even beyond the one in the blurb: ‘What does it mean to love?’

Okay, now spoilers.

* * *

The only quibble I have with this book is the first part – the part set in the store. I understand why it is there, and it definitely does give us insight into not only Klara but the world that allows for a Klara to exist, but I didn’t enjoy reading it much. Once she was chosen by Josie, however, I was sucked in.

It wasn’t until the end of the book that I actually understood what ‘lifted’ meant (at least, I think), and that the decision to genetically alter the children was what killed Josie’s sister and was close to killing her, and that Rick’s mother had chosen not to follow that route. A society where this is not only normal but apparently a prerequisite for ‘success’ in life is terrifying. And the fact that it can lead to death – that parents are willing to risk death rather than allow their children to exist without genetic modification.

The concept of AFs (I assume Artificial Friends) is also terrifying. I mean, I get it – society seems to have gotten used to AI in things like website chatbots. But having one assigned as a friend, to watch over one’s child, essentially spying on them, but also maybe being their servant? Yikes. Especially given all we come to know about Klara and how she can think and feel. She is brilliant in so many ways, but she doesn’t have a full view of the world, and her obsession with and treatment of the sun as a god is fascinating but also feels almost child-like. She can gain knowledge but it seems as though she can’t quite gain the maturity that would allow her to be more like an adult. And maybe that isn’t a bad thing, because so many people become crueler and less hopeful as adults.

The ‘portrait’ storyline also lead me to actually drop my jaw. Like, the idea that the AF could learn who Josie was by interacting with and studying her for a few years, and then ultimately BECOME her was chilling. I’m not a parent but I still think I can understand the visceral appeal of having a way to not lose one’s daughter (reminds be of a film I watched on AppleTV earlier this year – Swan Song), but wow that seems so extreme.

And the very, very last few pages? Broke my heart.

There is so much going on in this world, and it’s amazing how Ishiguro can build this world where there really are only a handful of characters we get to meet. Nothing is so explicit, and there is very little exposition. And yet I can picture the home, the town, and the society so very clearly.

This book will stick with me for awhile.

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

Monday

8

August 2022

0

COMMENTS

The Office BFFs by Jenna Fischer & Angela Kinsey

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Fans of either The Office TV show, or The Office Ladies podcast

In a nutshell:
Jenna ‘Pam’ Fischer and Angela ‘Angela’ Kinsey share stories of their time on The Office, which led to them becoming best friends.

Worth quoting:
N/A (audio book)

Why I chose it:
It was suggested by Audible and sounded fun

Review:
I didn’t watch The Office when it was on – I mean, I’m sure I saw episodes of it at the time but it wasn’t a show I regularly tuned in for. Some of it is just too cringe for me – my secondhand embarrassment is very easily set off – but some of it is really sweet. Once the show ended I watched it on streaming.

The book hits on exactly what I think any fan of a TV show wants. Behind the scenes gossip, interesting little nuggets about different famous episodes, deep dives into the main fictional relationships. This one also has the added bonus of learning about the real-life friendship of the two authors.

Unsurprisingly if you are familiar with these two actresses, the gossip is all kind and sweet. It sounds like everyone who worked on the show was just lovely. Really the only time there’s any tension is when discussing the fact that the show (I’m assuming the network, NBC) provided no maternity leave pay for Jenna Fischer, nor did they come up with ways to shoot around her leave, but they would accommodate other actors who had to be away when filming movies. Not cool, and I really appreciate that she spoke out about this, and the hardship of coming back to work five weeks post-partum because she needed the paycheck.

I’m not familiar with the podcast that Fischer and Kinsey started, similar to West Wing Weekly, but after listening to this book I’ll probably check it out.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Recommend to a Friend (who loved The Office)

Friday

5

August 2022

0

COMMENTS

Rogues by Patrick Radden Keefe

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People looking for some quality long-form writing about some interesting and disturbing characters.

In a nutshell:
Keefe brings together essays he’s written for magazines over the past decade or so.

Worth quoting:
N/A – Audio book

Why I chose it:
Loved his past two books – didn’t realize this was a collection of long essays.

Review:
This is not a bad book. It was not exactly what I was looking for, but I did still enjoy it. I listened to each essay in one sitting (well, running – it’s perfect for a 4-5 mile run, cool-down and stretch), which I think was the right call, because I would get the full story all at once.

The first essay is one I recall reading when it first came out, about someone who sells what are likely counterfeit rare old wines. There’s some enjoyment in it because one of the people he rips off is a Koch brother.

Other essays cover El Chapo, a woman in witness protection in Amsterdam because she testified against her mobster brother, a famous attorney who takes on notorious death penalty cases, someone fighting to find the truth of the Lockerbie bombing, and others. Also … Anthony Bourdain. I appreciate the title but I think it’s a bit much – some people don’t really fit under the ‘rebel’ theme but they also aren’t criminals. I don’t know – I’m happy they put all these essays together, but the link is tenuous at best.

Keefe is a talented investigative journalist – that is not in doubt. At times I wish he’s choose different words in his writing – sometimes it feels a little like that episode of Friends where Joey uses a thesaurus to try to make his letter to the adoption agency sound fancy. But that’s a choice Keefe makes as a writer, and it only sometimes pulled me out of the essays.

I don’t think anything in particular is gained from listening to this as opposed to reading it, but I do think each essay should be consumed all in one go.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it (if I could – it’s an audio book)

Saturday

30

July 2022

0

COMMENTS

This Book Will Make You Kinder by Henry James Garrett

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
All of humanity (but mostly the privileged folks).

In a nutshell:
Philosopher Garrett makes his case for the reasons we should be kind, and the ways people falter at it.

Worth quoting:
“The problem is not that oppressed people don’t empathize enough with their oppressors; the problem is that privileged folk don’t empathize enough with the oppressed.”

“Our beliefs about the inevitability of certain forms of suffering are intimately connected with our beliefs about what type of world is possible.”

“If you believe rules are the source of your duty to be kind and abstain from cruelty, you will be kind only to the extent that the rules demand.”

“Many people, for instance, mistake those rules of property and ownership upon which our capitalist system is built for moral rules, and they limit their empathy for that reason.”

“Kindness isn’t a complicated matter; in the end it comes down to whether you choose to look or to look away.

Why I chose it:
It had cute illustrations – plus I love a good book on kindness because I know I am not as kind as I’d like to be.

Review:
I knew this was going to be a special book when I got to page 5 and found an illustration of two whales. One says ‘Mama, how do we know when we’ve crossed from one ocean to another?’ and the mama whale responds ‘We don’t. Borders are socially constructed and you should be wary of anyone who takes them too seriously.’ Such adorable and profound illustrations fill this clever take on philosophy, morality, and empathy. There are turtles, dogs, birds, butterflies and other creatures imparting simple but important words of wisdom.

Garrett is a philosopher, and though this book is easy to read, it definitely has some aspects that remind of philosophy books and papers I read at university. His project with the book is to answer two questions: why are we kind, and why aren’t we kinder. The answer to the first question, he argues, is because of empathy, and the answer to the second question, is because of mistakes we make that ‘switch that empathy off.’

Early on he argues that many disagreements on particulars happen because we haven’t agreed to the underlying parameters or basic premises of the issues. If we’re starting from vastly different places, it is not surprising that we’ll feel as though we are talking past one another.

At this point and at many times throughout the book, Garrett is clear that he is not arguing that everyone makes the same number and type of empathy-limiting mistakes – this quote from above is critical to keep in mind throughout: “The problem is not that oppressed people don’t empathize enough with their oppressors; the problem is that privileged folk don’t empathize enough with the oppressed.”

Once Garrett has made his first argument about empathy and kindness, he turns to what he considers ‘empathy limiting mistakes.’ These are reasons why people essentially aren’t kinder. But first, he spends an entire chapter talking about how these mistakes are not evenly distributed throughout society – those with more power are often choosing or allowing themselves to make these mistakes, which result in them retaining more power of the people who they are choosing not to empathize with.

The chapter on the types of mistakes is enlightening, and includes things like false beliefs; ignorance / lack of knowledge; failure of imagination; a limited conception of morality (e.g. just following the rules of a religion, but not allowing for the idea that things not covered by those rules might also be unkind).

Once he’s explored in detail and provided examples of how each of these mistakes leads to a lack of kindness, he spends a chapter on how to improve empathy. This includes things like listening, treating people as experts in themselves, listening to those who are multiply oppressed, avoid being defensive, and being present.

I loved this book. I loved the sincerity and honesty with which Garrett approaches this topic. I love that he points out that ‘it costs nothing to be kind’ is a pretty limited conception of kindness – if we’re doing it right, it may very well cost us a lot to be kind, and that’s okay. I keep thinking about this book and I’ll be thinking about it for awhile.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep / Buy for everyone

Sunday

24

July 2022

0

COMMENTS

Can’t Even by Anne Helen Petersen

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
All of, us collectively, as a society, who are fed up with the expectations that we just work work work.

In a nutshell:
Author Petersen explores how the Millennial generation has been put into basically a really shit situation.

Worth quoting:
“This isn’t a personal problem. It’s a societal one — and it will not be cured by productivity apps, or a bullet journal, or face mask skin treatments, or overnight fucking oats.”

“Just because middle-class parents decided that a certain style of parenting is superior doesn’t mean it empirically is.”

“By cloaking the labor in the language of ‘passion,’ we’re prevented from thinking of what we do as what it is: a job, not the entirety of our lives.”

Why I chose it:
Although I’m a Xennial, I can definitely relate to the feeling of just being completely exhausted by the world and the expectations of all of us.

Review:
Author Peterson has written an interesting and important book, though in the end, I’m not sure it is telling us anything we don’t already know, at least those of us who are paying attention.
This book was written before the ‘Great Resignation’ became a thing, which makes it quite prescient.

She starts by looking at how we got here – essentially the values and pressures put on people by their parents. She’s not blaming the previous generation exactly, just discussing how their lives were different than the lives of their children. It reminds me of something I’ve read elsewhere – Boomers love to belittle Millennials for demanding ‘participation trophies,’ but the Boomers are the ones who taught them to expect those trophies – so why are the Millennials the ones being derided?

From there, the book focuses on what so many of us know – how for many of us, our lives have been a constant hustle. Get the best grades you can while also playing a sport, learning an instrument, and volunteering so you can go to a good university. Get the best grades there, along with perhaps some unpaid work experience (though only for those who can afford that), and then get a job. Which will pay you very little, and take up so much of your time that you have no time for living.

So yeah, folks are burnt out.

Peterson explores a variety of things that contribute to this: the digital age forcing work into every aspect of our lives; parenthood and how much energy that requires; unfair and unequal division of labor.

There’s so much in here and I think a lot of people would benefit from reading it. And while there are loads of reminders in there about the lives we all live individually, Peterson make a point to not offer specific solutions. There’s nothing here that a better time management method will fix – this is a problem with our society. Demanding people work eight or more hours a day, five days a week, commute 2 or 3 hours a day, raise children, with insufficient pay and very little support is a society that needs to be overturned at a systemic level.
We collectively need to take control back from the people who think its just fine for us all to work ourselves beyond exhaustion.

And until then, we definitely need to stop judging other people who might not go to university, or who might not parent the way we would, or who are living their lives in ways that we might not (but perhaps that we wish we could). The system is fucked up and people are doing their best to survive it.

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

Saturday

23

July 2022

0

COMMENTS

Buy Yourself the Fucking Lilies by Tara Schuster

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Anyone looking for some ideas for how to take better care of themselves.

In a nutshell:
Writer Schuster had a bit of a rough childhood, and so has been essentially exploring how to parent herself, and grow into the person she wants to be.

Worth quoting:
‘Life is not always a list of problems to be solved; sometimes it’s actually made up of fun and ease and beauty and laughter.’

‘There is no special prize at the end of life for “the busiest.”’

Why I chose it:
Honestly? The cover’s pretty cool. Also I like a bit of a vulgar title.

Review:
This was a fun book to read. It felt a bit indulgent (to read, not to write), but also there is some pretty cool stuff in here. One of the pull quotes from a review calls it ‘Wild meets You Are a Badass’, and I kind of agree? I don’t know if there is anything groundbreaking or earth shattering in here, but honestly? Sometimes I do like to be reminded that when possible, life should be enjoyed.

Now, obviously, one could view that as a pretty superficial or possibly naive view of the world. What if you have a health issue? What if you have no money? What if you’re facing some really serious problems? Who has time to, essentially, buy the fucking lilies when you aren’t sure where your next meal is coming from?

But if you approach the book for what it is – namely, suggestions and tips that the author has tried that have helped her grow as a person, enjoying her life more, starting from a place of some level of privilege – then I think it’s pretty good. Suggestions related to friendships, to self-awareness, and to personal values are ones I’ve started to incorporate. Others, mostly about diet / exercise / drinking or about finding a partner, I skimmed over because those aren’t so relevant to me right now.

The author is a good writer – the book is conversational and at times a bit funny. For what it is, I think it’s a pretty good read.

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

Wednesday

20

July 2022

0

COMMENTS

Fame-Ish: My Life At The Edge of Stardom by Mary Lynn Rajskub

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Two Stars

Best for:
Not people who like the author, as I think this might lead them to not…

In a nutshell:
Actor and comedian Rajskub shares stories of her life before and during her time as a fairly well-known actor.

Worth quoting:
N/A (Audio book)

Why I chose it:
Celebrity memoir read by the author. One of my favorite genres.

Review:
Do you ever read a book that you think you’ll enjoy and just … not connect with it at all? That was my experience with this book. I do wonder whether if I had read a paper version I might have enjoyed it, but something about the author’s reading of her own words made the stories mostly unpleasant. And I don’t mean that the stories were meant to be dark or hard and I just wasn’t getting it – I think the author read her essays in a tone that just sounds mean rather than honest, if that makes sense.

For example, the very last chapter of the book involves a story of a date she went on, that was yeah, not great, but she’s so deeply unkind to the person on the date in her retelling that I was kind of on the guy’s side. There’s an entitlement that, even if she has a point, she comes across in a really unflattering way. Like, to the point where I’d think this was a book written by someone who doesn’t really like Rajskub.

In another chapter she talks about a rough experience on an independent film set mid pandemic and again, it’s just like – yep, that all sounds kinda not great, but the way she tells the story, I just kind of thought ‘you don’t seem like a great person here either.’ With some authors, telling a story where they don’t come across great is a way to show some growth, a lesson they’ve learned. But here I don’t get the same type of self-awareness from the author.

It’s hard to write a review like this, because I’m essentially picking away at someone’s actual life, but I think I’m instead taking issue with the way the stories are being told. The date story, the film story, other stories I think could have been interesting and shown growth and an interesting personality from the author, but I don’t think that as a writer those skills are there yet.

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

 

Wednesday

29

June 2022

0

COMMENTS

The Little Book of Big Ethical Questions by Susan Liautaud

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People looking for some conversation-starting ethical starting points.

In a nutshell:
Ethics professional Liautaud explores a bunch of questions and what the ‘right’ thing might be to do in each.

Worth quoting:
“So I try my best to be careful about making choices that affect the people who will be living with them.”

Why I chose it:
I like accessible pop philosophy books.

Review:
And yet … I need to stop buying pop philosophy books. I’m almost always disappointed. (Except How to Be Perfect. That was fun.) This book is fine, though some parts did frustrate me enough to make me underline a whole lot and write a lot in the margins.

The book breaks the questions down into six sections: family and friends; politics, community and culture; work; technology; consumer choices, and health. She includes questions like: “Should you read your child’s or teenager’s diary or journal?”; “Should voting be mandatory?”; “Should your employer have a say in what you post on your private social media?”; “Should robots have rights?”; “Is purchasing organic food and products a more ethical choice?”; “Would you be in favor of editing the genes of human embryos?”

It’s got a great range of questions, and I think I might have enjoyed the book more with a book club so we could have some good discussions, though some of the questions in the book are pretty straightforward for me, while for the author she sees nearly everything in shades of gray. That’s not necessarily bad, and I think she makes some great arguments against binary thinking in certain circumstances, but there was a bit too much bet-hedging for me.

The chapter that got me frustrated was looking at the question “Should CEOs speak out about important social and political issues of the day?” And her response was basically nope. As though CEOs don’t owe anything to their employees or customers other than dividends. Yuck.

(Also, once again, can philosophers please stop referencing Peter Singer! Ugh.)

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

Wednesday

29

June 2022

0

COMMENTS

The Island by Ragnar Jónasson

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Fans of Icelandic crime books.

In a nutshell:
Ten years ago, a woman died. Someone went to jail for that murder. Ten years later, friends get together to commemorate the death, and another person dies. This time, the friends are literally on a deserted island, so … it’s gotta be one of them. Right?

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
This is the second in the Hidden Iceland series. I enjoyed the first one. Plus at this point I’ll read basically anything by Ragnar Jónasson.

Review:
This book takes place roughly 20 years before The Darkness. It’s an interesting way to write a series (and the final book apparently takes place 40 years before The Darkness), but it worked in this case. It starts in 1988, with a vignette that will later become relevant. There is a death, an investigation, and ultimately an arrest. The bulk of the book takes place in 1998, 10 years to the weekend of the anniversary of that death. And, once again, someone dies.

Hulda Hermannsdóttir is the main investigator on the second death, and some of what we know about Hulda from the first (but chronologically later) book comes into play here, but you don’t have to have read the first book to understand this one. Hulda is a middle-aged woman trying to make it in a very male profession, and has some frustrating encounters with her colleagues.

Obviously as a crime book I can’t say much more, but I will say that that first vignette had me guessing for a bit as to who the first victim was, which was a nice little addition to the overall main focus of the book, which is what happened to the second victim. As an added bonus, the setting for the second death is a real island off the south coast of Iceland. An island with literally just one building.

The world's most isolated house is in Iceland - SUPERCASA

Yeah, I’d probably pass on a trip out there…

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

Wednesday

29

June 2022

0

COMMENTS

I’ll Show Myself Out by Jessi Klein

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

Three Stars

Best for:
New moms looking for some solidarity.

In a nutshell:
Author Jessi Klein shares brutally honest stories from her life raising a tiny human as an older mother.

Worth quoting:
If I’d had a hard copy I’d probably have underlined a bunch, but it was an audio book, so I didn’t capture any.

Why I chose it:
I generally like her stuff.

Review:
I don’t have kids, and I’m not having kids. So this book is not for me, and my review should be read from that lens. My review is for other people like me, who might be thinking about picking this book up even though they don’t have any kids, nor do they want any. But maybe they have friends who do.

Klein’s writing reminds me a bit of a previous book I read – “All Joy and No Fun.” I absolutely get that Klein loves her son, and I even get the sense that she is happy being a mother. But being a mother, as described by her, sounds brutal. Like, really, really rough. And she has access to a nanny and had a lot of support. Like, if it was just a matter of it ‘taking a village,’ she should be all set. And yet she clearly isn’t.

One thing that stuck with me was the advice her son’s teacher gave about putting together small books when changes are coming, to walk the child through the change so he can be prepared. Man, that’s a great idea. I might start doing that for myself for changes, just to keep myself calm.

I don’t think that parenting is easy for the primary caregiver really ever. But my goodness, this book definitely makes it sound like something pretty freaking brutal. And honestly, probably more people could benefit from some of this type of frank discussion if they are at all on the fence about having kids.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it (if I had a physical copy)